By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky record-setting quarterback Lynn Bowden had a fairy-tale ending to his UK football career. Not only did Kentucky beat Virginia Tech 37-30 in the Belk Bowl Tuesday, the go-ahead score came on a perfectly thrown pass by Bowden — the receiver turned quarterback who was a prolific passer and very unproductive passer.
What made his bowl MVP performance, including the scoring pass to Josh Ali with 15 seconds left to cap an 85-yard, eight-minute drive, was the way the day started.
Two days after being verbal taunted/insulted by Virginia Tech players at a Belk Bowl team outing, Bowden got into an altercation with Virginia Tech players and actually threw a punch a a player on the field before official team warmups even started. The whole scenario was captured by ESPN cameras and shown to start ESPN’s Belk Bowl coverage for the nation to see.
It was the kind of stunt that many feared might be routine for Bowden in college and why along with academic reasons, many teams backed off the talented Ohio high school star and he ended up at UK.
However, until Tuesday, Bowden had been a model athlete at UK except for a few tweets he posted at times that even recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow said were drove by frustration over not getting the ball as much as he wanted or UK had led him to believe he would.
Still, none of that excuses losing your cool during pregame no matter what was said and Bowden knew it.
“It’s a lot of emotion. I could have hurt my team and not been out there tonight with them,” Bowden said after the game. “So I just apologized to my program, my teammates. I apologized to them guys. We respect Virginia Tech.”
Bowden should be respected by everyone, too. He had his third 200-yard rushing game against Tech in his eight starts. He ran for 1,369 yards in the eight games at quarterback — more than any other UK player in any eight-game span except for Moe Williams (1,389 in 1995).
Virginia Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield aid the Cats were “cool guys” and said the pregame incident had no impact on the game.
“We were talking to them and the refs wanted to come up. We were like, ‘We were just talking.’ It’s fine to me. It makes the game a little heated and makes the game better. It gives a little bit of excitement for the fans. It’s great,” Hollifield said.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who now has 32 wins in the last four years, would not comment in depth on what happened before the game and said the only real conversations with the game officials were about making sure nothing from before the game carried over to the game.
“We talked to our players, and they did a good job. We were amped up a little bit early and shot ourselves in the foot with some penalties, and we can’t do that. We were lucky to overcome that,” Stoops said.
Like UK was lucky to have Bowden at quarterback and lucky his lapse of judgment in the pregame didn’t get him ejected before the game even started.
““If I could go back, I wouldn’t do it (throw the punch),” Bowden said. “But it’s in the past. You know, champion (of the Belk Bowl.)”
Later Tuesday he posted on Twitter that it was a “great way” to end his collegiate career and thanked his coaches and teammates for helping him do what he did — rushing for 1,530 yards, scoring 22 touchdowns, passing for 495 yards and catching passes for 1,303 yards.
And what he did to help Kentucky win Tuesday’s Belk bowl was a legacy type performance that UK fans will never forget.