Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. said after a 37-30 win over Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl on Tuesday that he never would have believed his final play as a college player would be a touchdown pass to help win a bowl game.
But a pregame scuffle with Virginia Tech players -- in which TV footage showed Bowden apparently throwing a punch at a Hokies player -- could have written a very different story for the dynamic player.
For two programs that hadn't met since 1987, this one got testy before kickoff. Tussles broke out between players during pregame warm-ups, but game officials could not levy penalties because the scuffle happened more than an hour before game time, when the officiating crew's jurisdiction begins.
"It's a lot of emotion,'' Bowden said. "I could have hurt my team and not been out there [today] with them, so I apologized to my program, my teammates. ... We respect Virginia Tech, and if I could go back, I wouldn't do it. But it's in the past.''
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops echoed Bowden's remarks about the school respecting Virginia Tech (8-5).
"When you're down here for a week, there is some things, there is some crossover, and things happen," Stoops said. "These guys are competitive, but we do respect coach [Justin] Fuente and their program."
Bowden ran for 233 yards on 34 carries, and his 13-yard touchdown pass to Josh Ali with 15 seconds left put Kentucky up 31-30. Bowden, the game's MVP, ran for two touchdowns before leading the 18-play, 85-yard drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock.
The Wildcats (8-5) added a final touchdown as time expired when Jordan Wright returned a failed lateral attempt by the Hokies 28 yards for a score.
Bowden's 233 rushing yards are the most by a quarterback in a bowl game since Johnny Manziel ran for 229 yards for Texas A&M in a 2013 Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.