Scores
AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL

Final

Kentucky 25

(7-6)

Coverage: ESPN

5:00 PM ET, January 2, 2009

Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, TN

1 2 3 4 T
UK 0 3 13 925
ECU 3 13 3 019

Top Performers

Passing: P. Pinkney (ECU) - 296 YDS, 1 TD

Rushing: T. Dixon (UK) - 28 CAR, 89 YDS

Receiving: D. Freeney (ECU) - 5 REC, 112 YDS, 1 TD

Kentucky ekes out program-best third straight bowl win

Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Ventrell Jenkins barreled his 285-pound frame 56 yards with the ball in his arm, but it would take some improvisation to reach the end zone and help Kentucky achieve history.

Fast Facts

• For the first time in school history, Kentucky has won three straight bowl games.

• The Wildcats outscored the Pirates 22-3 in the second half.

• With the win, Kentucky finished the season at 7-6. The Wildcats have now strung together four straight non-losing seasons for the first time since 1953-56

-- ESPN research

"I saw the quarterback coming and I knew I had to outrun him," the Wildcats' defensive end said. "I did two moves in one -- a stiff arm and a high step, and the next thing I know, I was lying in the end zone with my team on top of me."

Who can blame them? This wasn't your garden-variety, go-ahead fumble return by a lineman.

No, this one gave Kentucky a 25-19 win over East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl on Friday, and gave the Wildcats a third straight postseason victory -- a distinction not even Bear Bryant's teams were able to achieve decades earlier.

"I know it wasn't the Sugar Bowl or the Cotton Bowl like Bear Bryant, but it is significant," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "I'm very proud of these young men, the whole group of seniors. They accomplished something historic."

Jenkins was an unpredictable MVP after two straight Music City Bowl wins in which Kentucky's former record-setting quarterback Andre Woodson led the way.

Kentucky (7-6) never led in this one until the fourth quarter, when fellow lineman Myron Pryor, who had his own 72-yard fumble return TD earlier this year, forced a fumble with about 3 minutes left. In the scramble for the loose ball, Jenkins came up with it and rumbled down the right sideline untouched.

Lones Seiber's extra point attempt was blocked -- the third blocked extra point of the game and second off Seiber's foot.

That gave East Carolina (9-5) plenty of time to drive for the win, but the ensuing kickoff was downed at the 1. The Pirates wound up punting four plays later, and Kentucky picked up a first down before running out the clock.

"I told our guys, 'We only need seven points,'" East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said. "I thought we'd find a way, but Kentucky did a nice job."

Coming off its first Conference USA championship, East Carolina jumped to a 16-3 halftime lead before failing in its attempt to win a third game this season against a team from a BCS conference. It had already defeated West Virginia and ACC champion Virginia Tech.

Moments before Jenkins' heroics, it appeared Kentucky might get the go-ahead score with another fumble return -- albeit not nearly as long -- by linebacker Micah Johnson. However, instant replay determined East Carolina quarterback Patrick Pinkney was sacked on the play by Memphis native Jeremy Jarmon, so the Pirates retained possession.

Even before that, the Wildcats' defense missed another chance at a game-breaking play in the fourth quarter when Sam Maxwell's interception deep in East Carolina territory was negated by a holding penalty on teammate Winston Guy.

Although Kentucky's defensive stars were outplayed in the first half, they saved their best for when it counted.

"We only won three games my first year," said senior defensive captain Braxton Kelley. "It means a lot to me to know we rose from the bottom to the top."

Bryant, who took his Alabama teams to four Liberty Bowls -- including the inaugural game 50 years ago and the final game of his career in 1982 -- was the only other Wildcats coach to lead the program to three straight bowl games. Unlike Brooks, Bryant only won two of them.

Kentucky saved virtually all its magic for the second half, in every aspect of the game, and it started when David Jones took the opening kickoff for a Liberty Bowl-record 99-yard TD.

"After I scored that touchdown, it was like everything swung our way and came into place," Jones said. "It put a big spark in the whole team and got us going."

Minutes later, quarterback Mike Hartline, starting for injured freshman Randall Cobb, gave Kentucky its lone offensive TD when he hit Kyrus Lanxter on a crossing pattern for a 19-yard touchdown that tied the game 16-all midway through the third quarter.

Hartline completed 19 of 31 passes for 204 yards and one interception. Brooks said he had been sick with the flu and praised his performance.

Pinkney finished 18-of-36 for 297 yards for East Carolina, most of it going to Davon Drew and Darryl Freeney. Drew caught five passes for 120 yards, and Freeney had five catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.

"I felt like we came out and competed, but we were unable to get the job done," Drew said.

Trevard Lindley, elected the Wildcats' team MVP, hyperextended his elbow while deflecting a pass in the end zone. The cornerback, who is considering leaving college a year early for the NFL, said afterward that he hadn't yet made a decision but doubted the injury would affect it.

While acknowledging his team's postseason accomplishment, Brooks, who has helped turn around the longtime Southeastern Conference bottom-feeder, said he has loftier goals for the future.

"We still aren't where we want to be," Brooks said. "Seven-and-six is not what we want to accomplish, but the last 30 minutes was about as beautiful of football that I have ever seen."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Team Stat Comparison

 
UK
ECU
1st Downs1617
Total Yards310397
Passing204296
Rushing106101
Penalties4-354-17
3rd Down Conversions7-173-15
4th Down Conversions1-10-1
Turnovers11
Possession30:4329:17

Passing Leaders

KentuckyC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Hartline19/312046.611
East CarolinaC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Pinkney18/362968.210

Rushing Leaders

KentuckyCARYDSAVGTDLG
Dixon28893.2013
Smith5285.6038
East CarolinaCARYDSAVGTDLG
Simmons10444.4128
Whitley7314.4018

Receiving Leaders

KentuckyRECYDSAVGTDLG
McCaskill36421.3048
Lanxter5469.2119
East CarolinaRECYDSAVGTDLG
Drew512024.0042
Freeney511222.4180

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERUKECU
FG05:24Ben Hartman 22 Yd 03
SECOND QUARTERUKECU
TD14:14Brandon Simmons 28 Yd Run (Ben Hartman Kick) 010
FG08:59Lones Seiber 21 Yd 310
TD08:47Darryl Freeney 80 Yd Pass From Patrick Pinkney (Pat Blocked) 316
THIRD QUARTERUKECU
TD14:48David Jones 99 Yd Kickoff Return (Pat Blocked) 916
TD08:13Kyrus Lanxter 19 Yd Pass From Mike Hartline (Lones Seiber Kick) 1616
FG00:06Ben Hartman 43 Yd 1619
FOURTH QUARTERUKECU
FG14:07Lones Seiber 34 Yd 1919
TD03:02Ventrell Jenkins 56 Yd Fumble Return (Pat Blocked) 2519