Saturday, January 24, 2009

2008 Liberty Bowl - Unpredictable Play Gives Kentucky Late-Scoring Win Over East Carolina, 25-19

Imagine yourself as Ventrell Jenkins, a 6-foot-2, 285-pound
defensive tackle for Kentucky who has been working all
afternoon to help his Wildcat teammates upset East Carolina
in the 2008 Liberty Bowl. The score is tied 19-19 and there
is exactly 3:02 left in the 4th quarter.

Suddenly, East Carolina running back Norman Whitley fumbles
in the backfield and the ball ends up in your hands with
daylight in front of you. You take off for dear life,
hoping you are faster than you think you are. A player in
pursuit has an angle on you and, in a desperate attempt to
avoid being stopped, you stiff arm him (knocking out his
mouthpiece) and high step your way the rest of the way to
score on a 56-yard return.

The next thing you know, your teammates are piling on you
in the end zone. Kentucky now leads 25-19 and your Wildcats
are on their way to winning their 3rd straight bowl-game
victory with coach Rich Brooks looking happier than a skunk
eating cabbage. Not even the late, great Paul "Bear" Bryant
won 3 consecutive bowl games when he coached the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky held on with 2:56 left, stopping East Carolina and
running out the clock to make their 25-19 lead stick.
Jenkins wound up being the Most Valuable Player by using an
offensive move on his historic 56-yard touchdown return by
a defensive tackle not known as a speedster. This is why we
love college football and why we watch bowl games. You
could not write a more unlikely script and have it come

Skip Holtz and his East Carolina Pirates had just won their
first ever Conference USA championship title and knocked
off Virginia Tech and West Virginia, two BCS conference
teams, coming into the Liberty Bowl Friday (1-2-09). The
Pirates finished the year at 9-5.

Kentucky was only a 6-6 team coming into the Liberty Bowl,
but was not exactly a total pushover, having lost to
Alabama by 3 points on the road and to South Carolina by 7
at home. Florida then crushed the Wildcats 63-5 and
Kentucky would go on to lose its last 3 games to Georgia,
Vanderbilt and Tennessee. But in football, you cannot
predict how the ball will bounce; sometimes lady luck comes
calling, even for a Wildcat.
After being down 16-3 at the half, senior wide receiver
Dave Jones took the ensuing kickoff back for a Liberty
Bowl-record 99-yard touchdown return, and the Pirates came
to life. Two possessions later back-up quarterback Mike
Hartline found sophomore wide receiver Kyrus Lanxter for a
19-yard scoring toss.

The Pirates would manage a field goal in the 3rd quarter
but that was it. Kentucky outscored East Carolina 22-3 in
the 2nd half. The Wildcat defense held East Carolina to
only 3-of-19 third-down conversions.

Neither team had a running game. Hartline, a sophomore who
was filling in for injured freshman starter Randall Cobb,
completed 19-of-31 for 204 yards. If you are a Kentucky
Wildcat fan, the stats meant little and the victory meant
"We still aren't where we want to be," said coach Rich
Brooks, "but the last 30 minutes was about as beautiful
football that I have ever seen." Go ahead and gush a little
bit, Rich, your guys made it happen. Every now and then,
the ball will bounce your way and when it does, you must
make the most of it.

Be grateful for your good fortune, coach Brooks, and put an
extra steak on Ventrell Jenkins' plate at the team's next
meal together. And, oh ya, don't worry about Ventrell's
time in the 40; he has a secret weapon, a vicious straight
arm and high step that would match a running back during
show time.
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