It was a fitting ending to Vanderbilt's 21-17 win over the Kentucky Wildcats as the Commodores defense set the tempo early with two goal-line stands in the first half Saturday.
"Those guys have been great all year long at just being able to try to stand up and anchor down," Commodores coach Derek Mason said. "That's who we are. That's what we want to be at Vanderbilt."
Mason, in his second year at Vanderbilt (4-6, 2-4 SEC), recorded his second SEC win. He doubles as defensive coordinator and his signature was all over this win.
Vanderbilt safety Oren Burks intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown and stopping a Kentucky drive in the end zone with the other.
"I was determined to get in the end zone," Burks said of the 30-yard return in the second quarter. "There was only one guy between me and the end zone and I'm not going to let that stop me. I was just reading the quarterback's eyes."
Linebacker Zach Cunningham led the Commodores with 10 tackles.
Slumping Kentucky (4-6, 2-6) lost its fifth straight as it converted only 4 of 16 third downs.
"It was a very difficult loss — heartbreaking for our team," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "We thought our team played with a lot of energy, a lot of passion, a lot of heart. The game comes down to a lot of critical plays — a few decisions with myself that could sometimes turn the outcome one way or the other."
Both teams must win their last two games to become bowl eligible. Vanderbilt closes with Texas A&M and Tennessee. Kentucky hosts Charlotte and Louisville.
Ralph Webb led Vanderbilt with 113 rushing yards on 33 carries. The sophomore is averaging 107.3 yards in the last four games.
Stanley "Boom" Williams, playing his first game since suffering a left elbow injury in a loss to Tennessee on Halloween, led the Wildcats with 115 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Kentucky's offensive problems continued as starting quarterback Towles and backup Drew Barker were each held under 70 yards passing.
The Commodores executed their "Sheaky Pete" trick play perfectly for their third TD, a 37-yard TD pass from Kyle Shurmur to an uncovered Caleb Scott to give Vanderbilt a 21-10 lead with 37 seconds left in the first half. Scott had jogged to the Vanderbilt sideline after a timeout and squatted down. No one from the Wildcats secondary picked him up.
"We repped it in practice week and we did it against our defense, and it worked," Scott said. "I just had faith in the call and I just got down, and no one was covering me so I knew the ball was going to be there. But that ball felt like forever to get there, but I looked it in and took off."
Kentucky answered late in the third quarter when Williams fond a big seam for a 67-yard run to the Commodores 7. Two plays later, Jojo Kemp's 2-yard TD narrowed the deficit to 21-17 with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
But Austin MacGinnis missed a chance to narrow the gap further when his 37-yard field goal attempt went wide left with 10:21 left.
Kentucky opened the scoring on MacGinnis' 38-yard field goal with 10:22 left in the first quarter.
Then Vanderbilt's defense started to assert itself.
Williams' 38-yard run to the 2 gave Kentucky four shots at the goal line from close range, but Vanderbilt kept the Wildcats out.
Azubike, a former star at nearby McGavock High School, set up the Commodores' first touchdown when he jarred the ball loose from Williams and Jay Woods recovered at the Kentucky 4.
Shurmur threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Anderton on the next play, giving the Commodores a 7-3 lead with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.
Vanderbilt's Darrius Sims muffed a punt that Kentucky's Jordan Jones recovered at the Commodores 3 early in the second quarter, but Burks intercepted Towles' pass intended for Dorian Baker in the end zone.
Barker's 7-yard TD pass to Ryan Timmons gave Kentucky a 10-7 lead with 10:23 left in the half.
Burks struck again when he intercepted Barker's pass and returned it 30 yards for a TD, giving the Commodores a 14-10 lead with 5:10 left in the half.
Defensive tackle C.J. Johnson called it the Wildcats' toughest loss of the year.
"The defense did outstanding, in my opinion," Johnson said. "It's just devastating to lose when you know you fought your heart out. You could just imagine what the locker room is like. People are upset. Ready to get back on the road."