Kentucky 6, E. Carolina 3
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Backup kicker Nicky Nickels booted a 29-yard field goal with 28 seconds left as Kentucky struggled to a 6-3 victory over East Carolina on Saturday to ensure its first winning season since 1989.
Kentucky (6-4) also kept its bowl hopes alive as it remains in contention for the Peach Bowl and Sunshine Classic. East Carolina (2-8) lost its fourth straight game.
Linebacker Marty Moore recovered a fumble by Junior Smith at the East Carolina 30 with 1:19 left in the game to set up Kentucky’s winning score.
Antonio O’Ferral, playing in place of the injured Pookie Jones, completed a four-yard pass to Alfonzo Browning on a third-and-3 at the 23 to keep the drive going.
O’Ferral intentionally downed the ball to stop the clock on the next play, then completed a three-yard pass to Randy Wyatt and ran four yards to the 12 in the middle of the field with 31 seconds left.
Nickels, who had missed a 22-yard attempt with 1:45 left, then had to wait as East Carolina called two timeouts. He was unfazed as his attempt split the uprights.
East Carolina’s Perez Mattison then threw two incomplete passes, and his third was intercepted by Don Robinson as time expired.
Nickels, handling field goals for the first time this season, kicked a 24- yarder with 13:39 left in the game to tie the game at 3. He replaced Juha Leonoff, who missed two attempts inside the 30 in last week’s 12-7 loss to Vanderbilt.
Smith, who finished with 169 yards on 34 carries, went off left tackle for 63 yards to the Kentucky 9 on the first play of the game. Four plays later Chad Holcomb kicked a 21-yard field goal to give East Carolina a 3-0 lead on the rain-soaked field.
Kentucky mounted a 22-play drive in the second quarter from its own 11 to the East Carolina 1, but it ended when Moe Williams was tripped up at the 2 by linebacker David Hart on fourth down.
In the third quarter, Kentucky’s Damon Hood broke loose on the left sideline for a 49-yard run to the East Carolina 4. But on the next play, Hood fumbled the ball away at the 5.
East Carolina also missed on a scoring opportunity, taking the ball to the Kentucky 2. But Holcomb’s 20-yard attempt after a high snap was blocked with 6:45 left in the third period.
Jones suffered a sprained left ankle on Kentucky’s third play and didn’t return to the game. O’Ferral completed 6-of-16 passes for 34 yards and was intercepted three times.
Williams carried the ball 25 times for 129 yards to become Kentucky’s all- time leading freshman rusher. He has 154 rushes for 897 yards.