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By KEITH TAYLOR
LEXINGTON Ã¢â‚¬â€ Randall Cobb wanted to beat Tennessee.
Although defeating the Volunteers would have given him bragging rights for the next 12 months, Cobb, a graduate of Alcoa High School near Knoxville, wanted nothing more than to carry the Wildcats to a second-place finish in the Eastern division of the Southeastern Conference.
Cobb said ending the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 24-game losing streak to the Volunteers was a concern, but not a priority.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean anything to me throughout the game,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We wanted to go out there and play for our seniors tonight. We went out there and gave it all we had. We just have to make sure we eliminate those turnovers.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Cobb shouldered part of the blame following the WildcatsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ heartbreaking 30-24 overtime loss to Tennessee in the regular season finale for both teams Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sensational playmaker led the team with 101 yards rushing, and a touchdown and finished with 186 all-purpose yards. But a fumble by Cobb in the third quarter on KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second possession of the second half led to a go-ahead 30-yard field goal, giving the Volunteers a 24-21 advantage.
The turnover resulted in a momentum shift that tiled in TennesseeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s favor.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“(My turnover) was big in the second half and that set them up for a field goal,Ã¢â‚¬Â Cobb said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the one thing we have eliminated in (the) close games the past month.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The miscue by Cobb came after Tennessee tied the score at 21-21 on Luke StockerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 16-yard touchdown pass from Jonathan Crompton with 3:28 left in the third quarter.
Although Kentucky booted a field goal that sent the game to overtime, the Cats failed to gain a lengthy dose of momentum.
Like Cobb, Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton shared the blame for teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fifth setback of the season and second loss in the past seven games.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what true competitors do,Ã¢â‚¬Â Cobb said of Newton. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I blame myself. If I hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t given them the ball that allowed them to kick the field goal – who knows where the game would have been. Morgan is just like me, he is hard on himself.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Cobb cramped up following the first half and had an IV treatment at the break. Brooks said Cobb Ã¢â‚¬Å“was pretty worn outÃ¢â‚¬Â as the game progressed.
As for his lack of production down the stretch, Cobb said a big reason for the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lack of execution and failed to blame it on lack of conditioning.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You have to execute the play that is called,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do that. The only people you blame are the people on the field. Coach makes the call that he believes will work and it should work if you execute it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Although the Cats held a 21-14 advantage at the break, Cobb said the Cats Ã¢â‚¬Å“chokedÃ¢â‚¬Â in the last two quarters that led to the VolsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ successful finish.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They came out energized and ready, and we didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t focused.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Brooks said Cobb would have liked nothing more than a win over his home state team, but said CobbÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contributions throughout the season put Kentucky to compete in the postseason for the fourth straight year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure he was disappointed as we all are,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He had a major impact getting us into the position that we were in going into this game. He made a lot of plays throughout the season in key situations to get us here.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In a season that could have ended in a low note, Cobb carried the Cats in desperate times that led to memorable wins at Auburn, Vanderbilt and Georgia, putting a premium on the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s home finale.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“RandallÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just been unbelievable,Ã¢â‚¬Â Brooks said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s made play after play after play.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But the Cats came up one play short in a game that would have made a difference in the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s climb up the bowl ladder.