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Rewind: Triumphant sendoff

Nov. 17, 2012
Commonwealth Stadium; Lexington, Ky.

Jonathan George rushed for 76 yards in Kentucky's 34-3 victory over Samford

The Joker Phillips era was not what Kentucky anticipated but the man who gave more than 20 years to the program as a player and coach exited the stadium where he spent much of his life as a winner.

Kentucky manhandled FCS foe Samford 34-3 to end an eight-game losing streak that spanned 70 cruel days. The Wildcats jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, sending Phillips and 19 seniors out with a victory in their final games at Commonwealth Stadium.

Kentucky had scored more than 17 points just once in its past seven games but piled up 31 in a first half that saw the Cats out gain the Bulldogs 266-52 and tack on a defensive touchdown in the final minute. It was the Cats' first halftime lead since heading to the break with a 17-7 edge on South Carolina on Sept. 29.

The Cats rushed for a season-high 342 yards, including Raymond Sanders' 123, while linebacker Avery Williamson became the first UK player with four consecutive games of at least 13 tackles since Randy Holleran in 1990.

“We poured our all into this, my wife and I did. We appreciate all the things...all the parents trusting in us, all the opportunities we got, all the things we got to do. We had some great experiences here, but it's time to go.”

“He's put so much into this program. He's the reason that I was here. For him to be with me for five years, you know that he's going out with me. We just wanted to take him out the right way. Even though the season, hasn't gone the right way, obviously he's done after the season, we just wanted to make sure we took him out the right way in his last game in the stadium too.” – UK center Matt Smith, on carrying Joker Phillips off the field.

“He deserves everything. He poured his heart and soul out into this program. He's a champion in our hearts. He means everything to us and to carry him off that field like a champion was the right thing to do for us.” – Kentucky offensive guard Larry Warford, on he and Matt Smith carrying coach Joker Phillips off the field on his shoulders

19 – The Kentucky football program said goodbye to 19 seniors in their final game at Commonwealth Stadium, including former player and current student assistant coach Sam Simpson. The group consisted of S Mikie Benton, WR Aaron Boyd, OL Stephen Duff, TE Gabe Correll, WR E.J. Fields, WR Gene McCaskill, K Craig McIntosh, S/CB Martavius Neloms, QB Morgan Newton, DB Kristofer O'Bryant, CB Cartier Rice, C Matt Smith, DE Collins Ukwu, OG Larry Warford, RB CoShik Williams, OT Trevino Woods and DE Taylor Wyndham. In the five years some of them have been on campus, including redshirt seasons, the Wildcats won 27 games and had three bowl appearances.

The official attendance for the regular season home finale was announced at 46,749, although we know Kentucky announced tickets sold plus game personnel. The crowd was better than the Vanderbilt game, which open records showed as a shade under 19,000, but far from the larger showing UK had hoped for to send off the senior class and Joker Phillips. The fans who did show offered a nice ovation during pregame Senior Day ceremonies and made noise throughout.

Kentucky did what SEC teams should do to an FCS opponent on its first drive, methodically moving down the field with a nice run-pass balance that ended in senior Gene McCaskill catching his third career touchdown pass. The score gave the Wildcats their first lead since going ahead of Georgia early in the third quarter of their Oct. 20 game in Lexington, which was later extended to 14 after the Cats marched down the field on their second possession as well. Total Yards: Kentucky 157; Samford 43

The Cats' offense continued to purr without much sputtering, adding a field goal and another touchdown on a short field. The only misstep was Jonathan George's fumble going in at the Samford 1-yard line but the Cats stuffed the backed up Bulldogs to create that aforementioned short field. Kentucky then capped the prosperous first half by forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Tristian Johnson on a sack of Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin. Total Yards: Kentucky 109; Samford 9

Craig McIntosh added to his strong Senior Night performance with a 43-yard field goal after a UK drive that stalled because of a facemask penalty. The defense nearly intercepted a flea flicker pass and continued to get heavy pressure on Summerlin to stuff the Bulldogs' offense on a pair of possessions. The Cats' defense even rose up after Patrick Towles' first interception set Samford up at the UK 26. Total Yards: Kentucky 98; Samford 42

The final quarter started with Kentucky throwing a backwards pass to offensive tackle Darrian Miller for what was officially scored a four-yard rushing attempt. Read that sentence again. The Cats were either having some fun, giving Tennessee a lot to game plan for next week, or both with that one. That's what you can do when you lead by 31 points and don't have to worry about your job status. After seeing that very little else mattered. Total Yards: Kentucky 91; Samford 8

When Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart made the only decision he could to announce Joker Phillips would not return for the 2013 season the best-case ending was for the Cats to score a resounding victory in the final home game for Phillips and the team's seniors. Consider the night a success then, which had to create a feel good moment in the UK locker room afterward. For at least one night, Phillips got to enjoy the final days of his coaching tenure.

Kentucky (2-9, 0-7) will close the Joker Phillips era by traveling to Neyland Stadium for a 12:20 p.m. kickoff against Tennessee on Saturday, Nov. 24.

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