Kentucky Holds Off Chattanooga on Saturday

Kentucky Holds Off Chattanooga on Saturday

by Tim Letcher

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Will Levis connected on 23 of 35 passing for 246 yards and two touchdowns as Kentucky overcame a sluggish effort to beat Chattanooga 28-23.

With the Cats clinging to a 21-16 lead in the fourth quarter, Tyrell Ajian made the play that saved the game. Ajian intercepted a Chattanooga pass at the UK five and returned it 95 yards for what turned out to be the game-cliniching touchdown.

Wan’Dale Robinson was Levis’ favorite target on Saturday, catching eight passes for 111 yards. He became the first UK player since Derek Abney in 2001 to have three straight 100-yard receiving games.

Chris Rodriguez Jr. led UK with 46 rushing yards, although the Kentucky run game was not as effective as it was last week against Missouri. The Cats had 102 yards rushing on 27 carries in the game.

Kentucky took the opening kickoff and methodically marched down the field, using a combination of running and passing. The nine-play drive consisted of five plays and four rushes and ended with an 11-yard touchdown rush by Josh Ali, the first rushing touchdown of his career. Matt Ruffolo added the extra point and the Cats grabbed a 7-0 lead with 10:43 to play in the first quarter.

Chattanooga was able to match UK’s early score. The Mocs went 75 yards themselves, aided by a Ailym Ford 48-yard rush. The Mocs would tie the score on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Cole Copeland to Reginald Henderson. Aaron Sears added the PAT and the game was tied 7-7 with 6:56 left in the first.

The teams would exchange punts. But Kentucky’s next possession, which covered the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second, ended with a score. The Cats marched 68 yards in seven plays, ending with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Levis to Isaiah Epps, the first touchdown of Epps’ career. Ruffolo added the PAT and the Cats took a 14-7 lead with 13:29 left in the half.

After a Chattanooga punt, the Cats took over at their own 14 yard line. On third down, Levis was intercepted by Chattanooga’s CaMiron Smith, who returned it to the UK 15 yard line. The Mocs did not do much with the ensuing possession, but Sears converted a 27-yard field goal to cut the UK lead to 14-10 with 8:47 left in the half.

The teams would exchange punts before Kentucky drove into Chattanooga territory with its next possession. But on fourth-and-five from the Chattanooga 30, Levis fumbled and the Mocs recovered at their own 38. However, UTC went three-and-out and was forced to punt.

Neither team would score the remained of the half and the Cats took a 14-10 lead into the break.

The Mocs took the first possession of the second half and drove into Kentucky territory. But the drive stalled and the Mocs settled for a  43-yard field goal by Sears that cut the UK lead to 14-13 with 10:43 left in the third period.

Later in the third, Levis was intercepted again, this time on a diving effort by Rashun Freeman, giving Chattanooga the ball at their own 34 yard line. The Mocs would have possession as the third quarter ended, trailing the Cats 14-13.

The Mocs would take that possession into Kentucky territory before the drive stalled inside the red zone. Sears would make a 30-yard field goal to give Chattanooga a 16-14 lead with 13:26 to play.

Kentucky answered immediately with an impressive scoring drive. The Cats covered 77 yards in seven plays and took the lead back on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Levis to Isaiah Cummings, the first touchdown for the Louisville native. Ruffolo added the PAT and the Cats took a 21-16 advantage with 10:18 to play.

On the ensuing drive, Chattanooga again drove into Kentucky territory. But this time, the Cats had the answer. Copeland was intercepted by Ajian, who picked it at his own five yard line and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown. Ruffolo added the PAT and the Cats extended the lead to 28-16 with 7:40 to play.

Chattanooga would not go away quietly. The Mocs drove into the UK red zone and, on third-and-goal, Copeland rushed around right end for a touchdown. Sears added the PAT and the UK lead was cut to 28-23 with 1:20 to play.

The Mocs tried an onside kick, but Ali recovered at the UK 43. After the Cats took a pair of knees, the game was over.

Kentucky returns to action next week, hitting the road for the first time this season. The Cats will visit Williams-Brice Stadium to face South Carolina at 7 p.m. ET. The game can be seen on the SEC Network.

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