LEXINGTON — Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith bowed his head and clasped his hands after Western Kentucky lined up to go for two in what turned out to be the game-winning conversion in overtime Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
The gamble by the Hilltoppers paid off in the form of a 32-31 upset of the Wildcats and overshadowed Smith's performance at the end of regulation. The successful conversion gave the Hilltoppers their first-ever victory over a Southeastern Conference opponent in 17 attempts and left the Wildcats in desperation mode going into Saturday’s conference opener at Florida.
“I didn't play very well,” he said. “I had an alright game, but it was the fact that I had four picks. That's like saying I pitched well, but gave up four grand slams.”
As expected, the mood in Kentucky's locker room was a somber one following the loss to the Hilltoppers.
“It's a terrible feeling,” Smith said. “It's a game that we don't expect to lose. It was tough — them coming into our place and beating us like that.”
The problems for Smith started early. The Kentucky quarterback threw three interceptions in the first half as the Hilltoppers built an early 17-0 lead. Despite the four total miscues, Smith battled back and nearly rescued the Wildcats in the second half. Smith fired a 22-yards touchdown pass to Demarcus Sweat with 23 seconds remaining to fend off a setback to the Hilltoppers at least in regulation.
Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders “was proud” of the way Smith bounced back even with a “re-aggravated shoulder” and a banged up leg as the Cats tried to avoid the eventual upset.
“It (the shoulder) affected his accuracy a little bit in the fourth quarter,” Sanders said of Smith's bumps and bruises. “He missed a couple of throws he usually makes, but he kept competing, standing in there and making plays.”
Smith said it was the same shoulder that he injured last year and added that it was “sore” following the contest, but isn't worried moving forward.
“I'll be alright,” he said. “I kept throwing and I was able to throw, but hopefully it's not to sore.”
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips wasn't happy with Smith's four interceptions, but knows he relies on “18- to 22-year-olds” to carry out his team's game plan on a weekly basis. He wasn’t shocked that Smith took a step backward.
“Nothing surprises you,” he said. “Max had been very accurate (and) tonight he wasn't. He wasn't — especially early. But, I thought he was really close on some of the throws, especially in the last drive and made a real big throw to (Demarcus) Sweat.”
Smith was aware of Western's confident attitude and gave credit to the Hilltoppers.
“I guess you could say they backed it up,” he said. “You can talk all you want, but you've just got to back it up and they did that. We fought hard, but we didn't fight hard enough.”
Despite the loss, Smith remains upbeat the Cats will recover and “keep fighting” as the season progresses.
“We're a good offense,” he said. “We showed signs that we were able to go down the field at will. Unfortunately we weren't able to do that the whole game, but it just shows you what we're capable of when we're clicking on all cylinders.”
UK Football: Smith says loss to Toppers a blow
Western Kentucky¿s Rammell Lewis celebrates after the Hilltoppers defeated Kentucky 32-31 in overtime Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium. (Sun photo by Bill Thiry)