With a defensive stand in the first half and an offensive breakout in the second half, Kentucky was able to hold off Tennessee for a 26-20 victory Saturday afternoon in the National Guard Border Bowl.
The victory avenged Kentucky’s 23-13 loss during last year’s inaugural game held at the University of the Cumberlands.
Though attendance was down from last year’s record crowd of 5,500, approximately 4,000 spectators braved a bitterly cold afternoon to watch some of the best high school senior football players from both states battle for bragging rights.
Tennessee got on the scoreboard first when Deonte Lindsey (Bradley Central) scored from six yards out. Kentucky’s Earl McCann (Bryan Station) blocked the extra point.
Kentucky tied the game, 6-6, when DeRon Hicks (Franklin County) returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown with 48 seconds left before halftime.
Missing out on the few extra feet that high school goal posts provide, Kentucky place-kicker Monte Merrick’s (Bell County) point-after attempt bounced off the uprights.
The third quarter featured an offensive explosion as Kentucky quarterback Tony Guidugli (Ft. Thomas Highlands) hooked up with Hunter Adams (Middlesboro) from 35 yards out to put the home team up, 12-6. Terell Torrence (Red Bank) blocked Merrick’s PAT, which gave Tennessee another opportunity to fight back.
On the next possession, Tennessee was able to drive downfield to score a touchdown on Matthew Pittser’s (Gatlinburg-Pittman) four-yard run. Josh Davis (Rhea County) booted the PAT for a 13-12 Tennessee lead.
The game came down to the final quarter. With Kentucky trailing by one, Guidugli scored on a quarterback keeper from 10 yards out to nudge his team in front, 18-13. Guidugli tried for a two-point conversion but was stopped in his tracks.
Kentucky’s defense forced a turnover, and Oliver Head (Ft. Thomas Highlands) scored from nine yards out. Zach Lewis (Clay County) connected with Mike Sullivan (Holy Cross) for a two-point conversion to put Kentucky up by two touchdowns, 26-13.
However, Tennessee did not go down without a fight.
Lindsey returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for his second touchdown of the day to get Tennessee within 26-20. Kentucky held its ground during the final minutes and pulled out a victory when Tennessee had a possible tying touchdown pass fall incomplete.
Kentucky rushed for 159 yards and passed for 188 yards for a total offensive output of 347. Tennessee rushed for 124 yards and passed for 102 yards for 226 yards of offense.
Penalties were a big factor in the game, as Kentucky only had one while Tennessee had nine. Kentucky piled up 23 first downs to Tennessee’s 11.
Pittser (13 carries, 65 yards, one touchdown), Lindsey (six carries, 30 yards, two scores) and Powell quarterback Kier Houston (5-of-13 for 84 yards) led the Tennessee offense. Tyrell McKinney (Morristown West) caught two of Houston’s passes for 51 yards. Josh Davis (Rhea County) punted 10 times for a 40.6-yard average.
Defensively, Cole Lail (William Blount) led Tennessee with eight total tackles, including one for minus yardage. Chad Coleman (Anderson County) and Nick Branum (Knoxville Catholic) each had an interception.
Guidugli powered Kentucky’s offense. He rushed 10 times for 35 yards and a touchdown and completed 9-of-18 pass attempts for 113 yards and another score. He was intercepted only once.
Lewis, who broke former University of Kentucky and Cleveland Brown’s quarterback Tim Couch’s career passing yards record last season, completed 5-of-13 pass attempts for 43 yards with one interception.
Jason Powers (Whitley County) led Kentucky receivers with three catches. Adams had two receptions for 43 yards and a score. Merrick punted eight times for a 37.1-yard average with a long of 50. He also placed three punts inside Tennessee’s 20-yard line.
Roy Philon (Bryan Station) led Kentucky’s defense with eight tackles — two for losses totaling 20 yards — and a quarterback sack for a 10-yard loss. Earl McCann (Bryan Station) intercepted a pass, broke up two more and blocked a kick.