The season has been full of ups and downs in Lexington but Mark Stoops’ latest Kentucky team came together and closed the 2020 season with a big win over a ranked N.C. State program in the Gator Bowl.

Kentucky won 23-21 thanks in large part to the team’s defense forcing N.C. State into three interceptions, which the Wildcats converted into 13 points, and a running game that finished with 281 yards on 48 carries.

Senior punter Max Duffy also had one of his best performances of the season, which was noted by Stoops after the game.

The win improved Kentucky’s record to 5-6 to end the 2020 season.

Here are the highlights from Stoops’ postgame Gator Bowl press conference:

Stoops on Kentucky managing to finish the season with a win in the bowl game:

“Very proud of our football team. I think there was a few critical plays in there where we had a chance to take it to another level, I wouldn’t say put it away, but make us feel a lot better about it.

“I think that the penalty at the end of the first half, we settled for a field goal when we actually threw a nice fade for a touchdown. Our tight end lined up off the ball – but that’s on us, we actually should have went right back to the call that I had to play before with the same formation.

“Really proud of our team, proud of our coaches. People don’t realize it, but it’s a pretty big deal when you’re down three of your full-time offensive coaches… Proud of our seniors, led us to three straight bowl victories, that’s a really big accomplishment and I greatly appreciate all of our players, all of them once again really wanted to be here.”

Stoops on capping the emotional season with a happy moment, earning the win:

“I think it’s very important. You know, again, it’s been well documented the investment, and it’s also been well document, the toll that it’s taken on all players across the country. And just once again see our players step up and want to do that, and travel back and forth, during their break, after really mentally being exhausted and still laying it on the line, all the way through to the fourth quarter, says an awful lot.

“We talked about in the chapel last night about finishing, with Aaron Hogue always does a remarkable job, I talked about it this morning. I addressed it, one of the last things I said when we left the field was recognizing, Chris Oats and Jon Schlarman, having their memories in our mind today and in wishing they were with us. Great to cap it off with a big victory.”

Stoops on keeping Terry Wilson in the game, not going to any backups:

“I really, I wanted to and I probably should have, to be honest with you. I have great confidence in Terry and he did pull out the victory. But it was also important the get the win. I’ve seen Terry rally us back many times before. I wish I would have got him in, to be honest with you, but I didn’t, and fortunately we came out with the victory.”

Stoops on AJ Rose’s final game with Kentucky:

“It was really big and I was really happy for him and really proud of AJ, just like a lot of our players. If you’re around here for four years or five years, you’re gonna go through some ups and some downs. He certainly has, he’s been there he’s been consistent. He is a wonderful family, he was the MVP of the game tonight. Just really happy for him really proud of him.

“He’s been here for a long time and he’s helped us win a lot of games and, again, you’re gonna get criticism, you’re going to get, you know, people coming at you and talking about other people but he just always kind of stuck to themselves in, you know, worried about his game and himself and happy that he went out that way.”

Stoops on Kentucky’s lack of success passing and how that will be developed:

“Yeah, well, we’re gonna, this is, we’re gonna say goodbye to 2020 today. So it’s on to the future, Really, greatly appreciate the win, but also very excited about the future of Kentucky football. We’ll address that when I get back in January, I need a few days off.”

Stoops on Max Duffy’s big performance:

“Yeah, that’s a great point, you know field position was such a big deal in this game… Just goes to show you how savvy he is and how talented he is. We’re grateful for his background with Aussie football right there on that play. Because to have the confidence in that to elude the rush and then punt of the way he did. He’s just a talented guy really is he’s got more tricks up his sleeve too, which we’ve had them for four more years. Like I said before, we’re grateful for bringing another Aussie.”