Rapid Reaction: Lynn Bowden does it all, including throwing TD pass to lift Kentucky past Va. Tech in Belk Bowl
It’s not exactly the way the late Jim Croce sang it, but hopefully, Virginia Tech learned a few things in the Belk Bowl. You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Lynn Bowden.
After a surprisingly high-drama week leading up to the game (complete with on and off-field encounters between the two teams, Bowden did what he did one more time, leading Kentucky to an impressive and improbable 37-30 Belk Bowl win.
After doing it all day with his legs, he delivered the game-winner with his arm, hitting Josh Ali for a 13-yard TD with 15 seconds to play. Matt Ruffolo’s extra point gave the Cats the lead. They added a scoop-and-score at the buzzer to account for the final margin.
Kentucky entered the game off a 45-13 thumping of in-state rival Louisville, but found Virginia Tech to be a more demanding ACC opponent. The Hokies were making their 27th consecutive appearance in a bowl game and saying goodbye to longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who is a Kentucky native.
Tech opened the scoring with a 54-yard field goal from Brian Johnson, which was a personal best and a Belk Bowl record. Kentucky then took its opening possession 80 yards in a dozen plays, capping the drive with Bowden’s 25-yard touchdown run to take the lead. Tech wasted no time by answering with a 5-play, 75-yard drive to take a 10-7 lead late in the 1st quarter.
Tech extended its lead with a 6-yard scoring pass from Hendon Hooker to Dalton Keene, but Kentucky answered with a 64-yard drive just before the half, capping it with a 2-yard run from Chris Rodriguez to draw within 17-14.
Both teams swapped scores throughout the 3rd quarter, as a game that was billed as something of a defensive showdown turned into something of a shootout. Kentucky drew even on a 40-yard Matt Ruffolo field goal early in the 3rd quarter. Tech moved back in front on a 43-yard touchdown run by Deshawn McClease (en route to surpassing the 100-yard rushing mark), giving the Hokies a 24-17 advantage. Bowden answered for Kentucky with a 61 yard scoring run to even the score. Tech then connected on another field goal to claim a 27-24 edge.
Early in the 4th quarter, Johnson added another made kick from 27 yards to stretch the edge to 30-24 with 12:47 to play.
Bowden crossed over 1,400 rushing yards for the season late in the 3rd quarter, and continued to amaze his own fans and to frustrate the opposing fan base. He was greatly assisted by a strong game from junior running back A.J. Rose, who broke a 34-yard run at one point, and emerged with nearly 100 rushing yards for the game, but did lose a pivotal fumble late in the 3rd quarter. Kentucky connected on a few early passes, but mostly rolled the dice with Bowden’s running plays in pivotal situations.
Until the final, dramatic play, when Bowden completed his 6th pass of the day and biggest of the season.
Kentucky finishes the 2019 season with a winning record, and will look to build on a streak of four consecutive bowl appearances in 2020. Mark Stoops remains the 2nd-longest tenured coach in the SEC, and aside from the loss of Bowden, should return most of its significant players next season.