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By LARRY VAUGHT
It just would not have been right if Mike HartlineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final home game as KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s starting quarterback would have been anything but a struggle.
After all, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what the seniorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career at Kentucky has been like. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been booed and cheered Ã¢â‚¬â€ sometimes in the same game. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been a hero and scapegoat Ã¢â‚¬â€ sometimes in the same game. He had to win his starting job three straight seasons Ã¢â‚¬â€ and often it was not the popular choice with the fans.
Yet once again Hartline found a way to help the Wildcats overcome a halftime deficit to beat Vanderbilt 38-20 here Saturday and make the Cats bowl eligible for a fifth straight year.
Hartline was 15-for-23 passing for 232 yards and one touchdown Ã¢â‚¬â€ a 55-yard bomb to Chris Matthews in the fourth quarter after a nice pump fake by Hartline. Those were nice numbers, but not his best.
Still, he came into the game leading the Southeastern Conference in touchdown passes (21), second in passing yards per game (267.4 yards) and third in total offense per game (264 yards).
Ã¢â‚¬ËœI am all about winning. Stats are something you look at after the game,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the Canton, Ohio, native. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I look at completion percentage and want my touchdown-to-interception ratio to always be good, but it stops there. Nice stats are a plus, but we didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need to throw a lot today. If we run more, then passing gets easier and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s easier to hit Chris Matthews for a big score down the field like we did. And if you win, you should always be happy.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Indeed any Kentucky quarterback should be based on the struggles this program has had and had again Saturday when it trailed the lowly Commodores 13-10 at halftime.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We knew we had a good game plan going in. If we had executed and stayed out of negative plays, we would have taken care of this team a lot easier,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hartline admitted. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Again, we got penalties, had negative plays. I told the guys at half that Kentucky was beating Kentucky and really challenged our offensive line to pick up the intensity and they did a great job.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It has been this way the whole season. Sometimes you wonder when are you going to get a break, but we won. We made some big plays we have not had in a long time, and that really helps.Ã¢â‚¬Â
It also helps to have a quarterback that understands the big picture and has made himself a viable NFL possibility at the same time heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s became a winning playmaker for UK.
He was one of the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seniors tha addressed teammates at the team hotel Friday night.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“People ask me about my legacy and I told them, Ã¢â‚¬ËœAll I think about is you guys and how hard you have prepared. I would not have had the year IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had without a lot of you people.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ It was very emotional,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hartline said.
It was the same before the game when he was on the field with his parents.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They are so supportive and so happy I have had a successful season. My dad has become such a huge Kentucky fan since I have been here. He thinks this is a different world, different tenacity and he loves coming down here,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hartline said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My mom is a mom. She knows it is emotional. I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t too emotional during the ceremony. I was more concerned with just getting the win.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Kentucky had plenty of stars today Ã¢â‚¬â€ Randall Cobb ran for 170 yards and two scores and had 279 all-purpose yards, linebacker Danny Trevathan had double figure tackles for the seventh straight game and Derrick Locke rushed 22 times for 145 yards and two scores.
But coach Joker Phillips made sure Hartline got a special ovation. On UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final series, he let Hartline take the first snap before replacing him with Tyler Sargent so the fans at Commonwealth Stadium could wish Hartline a fond farewell.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It just kind of came to me. I mean, we thought Mike deserved that, we really did. The guy is a stand-up guy. He has handled everything that’s happened to him like a man. We had 16 seniors today, and Mike’s one of those guys that we talk about being ready to go out in the real world,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Those guys are more than ready to handle all the things that come up in this world because of the things they’ve been through here in the last five years, and especially Mike Hartline.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Hartline wanted to take that snap, and the other remaining snaps.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I wanted to finish the game. I was just thinking finish the season, finish what I started,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hartline said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But that ovation was a good feeling.Ã¢â‚¬Â
No one enjoyed it more than Cobb, who shared a huge embrace at the end of UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s upset win over South Carolina earlier this season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Me and Mike have a relationship that canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be broken. It is something we will grow old together with . All the things he has been through and to still find a way to come out with a win at the end is so special,Ã¢â‚¬Â Cobb said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“To see him walk off the field at the end after that last snap was great.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Yet Cobb wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t sure that was even enough respect for what Hartline has done.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I still donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think he is respected enough. He has had a phenomenal season and the things he has done for us have been remarkable,Ã¢â‚¬Â Cobb smiled and said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I still donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think he gets the respect he needs and deserves because of all the things that have happened in the past.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think at some point people are going to realize he was one of the better quarterbacks to come through here. Everybody who plays with him knows it, and sooner or later everybody else will realize it, too.Ã¢â‚¬Â