LEXINGTON, Ky. -- First came the pregame drone crash that caused no injuries or damage to a remade Commonwealth Stadium, just social-media snarkiness.
And thanks to Mikel Horton, Kentucky overcame its own collapse against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Horton's 12-yard run with 57 seconds remaining helped Kentucky overcome blowing a three-touchdown lead and escape the Ragin' Cajuns 40-33 Saturday night in the season opener for both squads.
"On that last drive, we had momentum," said Horton, who finished with 28 yards on six carries. "Losing never crossed our minds, we just had to execute."
Horton's run provided Kentucky a successful if nervous housewarming at the "new" CWS after a $120 million renovation including player amenities such as a recruiting room and patio atop a tunnel leading to a new synthetic turf field. The Wildcats initially gave a sellout crowd of 62,933 something to feel good about on the field and in their seats before things turned sour.
"That's just how we draw it up," Wildcats coach Mark Stoops joked. "It was really a great night. I could not be more proud of this football team. The way they hung in there and played a hard-fought game. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."
Patrick Towles' five-yard touchdown pass to Blake Bone provided a 33-10 lead late in the third quarter. But Austin MacGinnis' missed extra point opened the door for the Ragin' Cajuns to rally with TD runs of 56 and 26 yards by Torrey Pierce and a 23-yarder by Jalen Nixon.
"I honestly thought we had the momentum as a team," said Nixon (five carries, 37 yards). "It kind of got quiet in the stands, so I felt like we could have possibly took over the game at that moment. And they came back and got the critical stop."
Elijah McGuire's game-tying two point conversion run with 7:36 left created more anxiety, especially for Kentucky when Towles fumbled a fourth-and-1 snap at Louisiana's 49. The junior somehow recovered the ball for a two-yard gain to extend the drive and set up Horton's game-winning run five plays later.
Josh Forrest intercepted Brooks Haack's Hail Mary pass as time expired to preserve Kentucky's narrow win on a wild but long night that included a faulty game clock and even lightning in the near distance along with the drone crash.
"We just had to stay calm," Forrest said. "We play better when we play calm."
Louisiana ended up outgaining Kentucky 479-435 but committed four turnovers.
Towles passed for 257 yards and TDs of 35 yards to Garrett Johnson, 37 to Jeff Badet and Bone. Those scores followed Stanley "Boom" Williams' 75-yard TD run on the game's first play, providing a cushion that seemed safe in the inaugural meeting between the schools.
Williams' speed helped the Wildcats deliver just 16 seconds in. Last year's team rushing leader blew through a big hole up the middle and off for a big TD that brought a roar from the packed house before they got comfortable in their seats. He finished with 135 yards on 10 carries.
MacGinnis added a 48-yard field goal late in the second for a 24-7 lead at the break and 24-yarder in the third, but his rare conversion miss came back to haunt Kentucky.
Louisiana shook off game-long struggles highlighted by turnovers and rallied with Pierce's big runs. The senior rushed for 110 yards on 10 carries while McGuire added 86 on 27 attempts. But the Ragin' Cajuns stalled on their last possession and forced Haack's desperation pass that several Wildcats had measured; Forrest made the INT, allowing Kentucky to start off CWS 3.0 on a good note.
"It counts," said Towles, who completed 16 of 34 passes and was sacked three times. "I've got be more consistent for sure, but we won. We'll take the win and we'll never take those for granted."
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
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