Will Levis overcame two interceptions to throw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Isaiah Cummings, safety Tyrell Ajian returned an interception 95 yards with 7:40 remaining, and Kentucky rallied past Chattanooga 28-23 on Saturday.
Considered overmatched in their first meeting against the Southeastern Conference school, the FCS Mocs (1-2) slowly turned a seven-point deficit into a 16-14 lead early in the fourth on Aaron Sears’ 30-yard field goal. The Wildcats (3-0) awoke to drive 77 yards for the go-ahead TD, helped by Levis’ 21-yard run and a defensive pass interference penalty before the QB hit Cummings with a 31-yard TD pass with 10:18 left.
Chattanooga was in Kentucky territory when Cole Copeland, pressured by Wildcats defensive tackle Octavious Oxendine, threw down the middle to Ajian for an easy pick. The senior safety found a hole near the left sideline and was almost untouched to provide a needed cushion.
The Mocs weren’t done as Copeland ran for a 2-yard TD to cap a 75-yard, 14 play drive. Josh Ali, who ran 6 yards for Kentucky’s first score, recovered the onside kick that allowed the Wildcats to run out the clock.
Levis completed 23 of 35 passes for 246 yards and two TDs, hitting Wan’Dale Robinson eight times for 111 yards, as Kentucky edged Chattanooga 348-339 in yardage.
Copeland was 21 of 35 for 168 yards while Ailym Ford carried 21 times for 128 yards.
Chattanooga: The Mocs had nothing to lose and aggressively kept the heat on the Wildcats. The effort eventually seized the lead before they allowed the Wildcats to score and then committed a costly turnover.
Kentucky: The Wildcats’ offensive efficiency over the first games gave way to a tentative, lethargic and mistake-prone effort more befitting an opening game. Levis’ interceptions were of his own doing before he settled down to lead the pivotal drive. Ajian followed with the clinching takeaway.
Chattanooga has a bye before hosting Western Carolina on Oct. 2 in its Southern Conference opener.
Kentucky returns to SEC play next Saturday at South Carolina, seeking its seventh series win in eight meetings.