By Ricky Blair – On a clear blue sunshiny evening, the Kentucky Wildcats opened their season in the newly renovated Commonwealth Stadium. A new artificial playing surface, new recruiting room, more luxury boxes, a club level seating area, more room in the concourse area for concessions – and yes, even a new press box for the media.
The $120 million dollar renovation project was, for the most part, complete. A free concert by the group “Sundy Best” began at the location just before the traditional “Cat Walk”, as the UK players left the team bus and entered their new stadium.
Inside, the festivities continued as a choir composed of singers from each of Kentucky’s 120 counties sang the national anthem. The United Sates Army Parachute Team, named the Golden Knights brought the game ball as they parachuted into the stadium just before kickoff.
So Kentucky had done everything humanly possible to open this newly renovated stadium with a “Bang”… or should I say, “Boom”. After a delay for a clock malfunction – there had to be a few glitches – Kentucky Sophomore running back Stanley “Boom” Williams took the ball on the first play from scrimmage and raced 75 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a quick 7-0 lead.
The Wildcats’ scoring continued as junior quarterback Patrick Towles passed for a couple of touchdowns in the first half, the first one a 35-yarder to sophomore wide receiver Garrett Johnson and the second one, this time a 37-yarder, to wide out Jeff Badet. With a 44-yard field goal by all-SEC kicker Austin MacGinnis, the Cats had coasted to a 24-7 halftime lead.
Looked like the Wildcats were not going to miss a beat as they tacked on another field goal and a Towels 5-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Blake Bone that gave the Wildcats what looked like a commanding 33-10 lead with only 3:47 left in the third quarter. But just when you thought this game was over and as many of the fans headed for the exit, disaster started to rear its ugly head.
Surefooted kicker MacGinnis, who had made 44 straight extra point attempts, missed his career first. This was just the beginning of the Wildcats’ problems. The defense, which had done a good job of keeping the Rajin Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette in check for most of the game, all of a sudden became porous. Towles, who had been accurate on his passes, could no longer find his targets. While this was going on for Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, which had won at least nine games and had four bowl wins over the last four years, was not going to go away easily. They roared back with 23 unanswered points to tie the game at 33.
As the Wildcat faithful grew ever so nervous, the defense led by linebacker Josh Forrest (15 tackles) and defense lineman Melvin Lewis (9 tackles) finally stiffened and gave UK one last chance to have a happy ending. With 4:37 remaining in the game, the offense regained confidence. The Cats moved 58 yards on nine plays; the last 12 on a touchdown run by sophomore running back Mikel Horton to give the Wildcats a 40-33 win. A much needed win as the Wildcats hope to have a successful season and a bowl opportunity in their future.