LOUISVILLE – Outside the stadium, the tailgaters partied – drinking and roasting, laughing and toasting. In fact, despite the dismal season for the Cardinals, boosters filled the “U of L Cabooses,” the faux train cars outfitted for parties that sit on the railroad tracks next to the stadium.
Inside, their team was a train wreck.
A crowd stuffed with blue but also a surprising number of red saw, once again, why the season has been a nightmare for Louisville fans. And it was a dreamy outcome for the Big Blue Nation.
Kentucky produced the biggest rout in the history of the series, bigger even than the shellacking administered by Tim Couch and his buddies on the day the stadium opened. In that one, the Cats won by a mere 34 points, doubling up the Cards, 68-34.
In 1998 the outcome was never in doubt, just like Saturday’s win. It did look interesting after quarterback Malik Cunningham sped 75 yards on a broken play to pull the Cardinals to within 14-7 in the first quarter.
But practically everything after that was tinted in blue, to the delight of the thousands of UK fans who nestled into enemy territory.
“We felt them in the stadium,” Mark Stoops said. “There was a lot of blue at the end.”
They stuck around to see their favorites re-claim the Governor’s Cup, the trophy that accompanies bragging rights. It’s coming back to Lexington for the second time in three years, thanks to another road win by the Wildcats.
Two seasons back, they stunned Heisman Trophy quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Cards, who were favored by four touchdowns. In this one, Kentucky was the 17-point favorite and looked every bit the part.
There was Benny Snell, doing his usual work, rushing for exactly 100 yards to tie legendary tailback Sonny Collins with his 18th career 100-yard game. Snell had suffered a painful bruise to his back and was used sparingly in the second half.
No matter. A.J. Rose picked up the pace, ripping off a 75-yard touchdown run. And third-stringer Kavosiey Smoke, owner of the greatest name for a Wildcat this side of Javess Blue, got his first touchdown with a powering 37-yard run as nifty as his name.
Josh Allen got himself another sack, of course. The entire defense made the night miserable for the Cards, ringing up two sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
But the guy who seemed to have the most fun was quarterback Terry Wilson. Playing in his first Red vs. Blue matchup, the redshirt sophomore threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 79 yards and a score.
“I felt comfortable,” he said, and looked every bit the part.
“He really was comfortable,” Stoops said. “He threw some really good passes today in some tight windows. He bought some time with his legs and just really made a lot of good decisions. I think it’s very encouraging.”
Encouraging, because his team roster will include Allen, Mike Edwards, C.J. Conrad and, very likely, Benny Snell for just one more game. It will be a bowl game somewhere in Florida and then they’ll be gone, settling into the pages of the UK football history book, leaving their mark with more SEC wins than any other senior class and the first 9-win season since 1977.
The pride was evident in Allen, who began to formulate his victory plan with about three minutes left to play. Josh Paschal already had replaced him in the game, so Allen had time to plot.
Surrounded by teammates (and photographers), he told them that with one minute on the clock, he was going to run down and borrow the massive UK flag from the cheerleaders, situated near the end zone.
“And I’m going to wave the (bleep) out of it,” he said.
The clock was arrested at 1:01. Allen, who couldn’t be stopped by offensive linemen this season, was not going to halted by a solitary digit. He bolted.
Grabbing the flag and waving it over his head to the delight of UK fans, Allen ran the sideline in his own personal victory lap. It was as though he was staking his claim, which essentially he was.
Allen now owns the career and single-season record for sacks, taking his place in the record book as an all-time Kentucky great. But the unfurling flag also signaled that, once again, Cardinal Stadium belonged to the Wildcats, as did the bragging rights for another year.
Later, as the UK team buses sped off into the night, the U of L cabooses fell silent. A once-proud program has slipped fully off the tracks. The Wildcats had spoiled the party.