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Kentucky Wins SCRC

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Kentucky Wins SCRC

Kentucky vs Tennessee in the SCRC final. Photo Will Fagan.

The Kentucky Wildcats won the SCRC final thanks to a fairly emphatic second half 32-12 over Tennessee Saturday.

Despite playing against the wind in the first half, the Wildcats opened the final with a try by John Dardis just six minutes in. Flyhalf Jack Phillips converted for a 7-0 lead. Wing Matt Verdes then took off on a run and grubbered through when he was chased; Holdan Hahn chased it down to make it 12-0. As the midpoint of the first half approached Kentucky was in a good position. But Tennessee came back quickly with two tries in the space of seven minutes to tie the game 12-12.

The teams clamped down their defenses after that, but Phillips did nudge his side back in front with a penalty just before halftime.

The second half, however, was a different story. Tennessee was held scoreless as Kentucky, with the wind, got a try from Joe Keough just a few minutes into the second half. Andrew Weeks went over midway through the second half and that try gave Kentucky a 13-point cushion at 25-12. Everett Mardis iced it late, with Dardis, who had opened the scoring, ending it with the conversion.

Kentucky, in fact, did the double as the B-side final was also Kentucky over Tennessee, to the tune of 48-19. 

Keough was a handful against Tennessee, breaking off several big runs, especially during the first half when the Wildcats needed strong runners to get out of their half.

Prop Blaine Donlon and wing Dom Rosson provided a nice spark when they came off the bench, while Gage Curry was excellent on defense, making some tackles that changed the momentum. With a tight five that put in a full day's work and backed by scrumhalf Alec Cole and No. 8 Everett Marret having their best games of the season. Cole was pressured by the Tennessee defense but handled it well and he was able to ensure UK could play fast.

Everett, who was injured before the regular season began, had been working his way back. He was powerful with the ball in hand in a game when he was finally able to play fully healthy.

For the Kentucky team as a whole, they remember 2022 when they weren't NCR members and therefore were unable to play in the conference final (which served then, as now, as a playoff qualifier for NCR). They felt in 2022 they were the strongest team in the conference. This year they proved it.

"The boys are very excited," said Head Coach Sam Enari, "as they should be. But they understand that winning the conference is only one of the goals we set for ourselves this year."

Kentucky is definitely now in the NCR playoffs, which begins next week. One at-large spot remained in the NCR DIAA final eight, and Tennessee received that by virtue of being closer in their final than Bowling Green was in theirs.