LOUISVILLE — Louisville starting quarterback Reggie Bonnafon was down on the Papa John's Cardinal Stadium turf. He was not getting up. As he watched from the Cardinals' bench, the same thought kept running through Kyle Bolin's mind.
A crowd of 55,118 to see the 21st modern renewal of the Governor's Cup between archrivals Kentucky and Louisville had fallen dead silent after Bonnafon injured a knee on a scramble early in the second quarter.
On the scoreboard, a highly unexpected narrative was playing out. Kentucky, a 131/2-point underdog, was up 13-0 on the Cardinals.
Amidst it all, Bolin, the Lexington kid who plays for Louisville, had one thought. "I was just thinking, 'I've got to find my helmet,'" the redshirt freshman QB from Lexington Catholic said. "I didn't have it with me. I was like, 'Where did I leave it?'"
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Suffice to say, Bolin found his helmet. Then, in our state's most pressurized college football game, a guy who had thrown all of seven passes as a college player before Saturday kept his head.
Perhaps the most entertaining football game so far in the modern history of the UK-U of L rivalry will always be remembered as "The Kyle Bolin Game." In slightly less than three quarters, the 6-foot-2, 203-pounder threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns as Louisville survived a gutty Kentucky performance for a 44-40 victory.
"Really proud of Kyle Bolin," Cardinals Coach Bobby Petrino said. "To come into that situation and just work hard and complete passes and compete. ... He made some plays and won the game."
What a game Bolin won.
Kentucky (5-7) entered on a five-game losing skid and with its hopes for bowl eligibility hanging in the balance. Louisville (9-3) knew any aspiration it had of finishing its first season in the ACC playing in the Orange Bowl depended on victory over the Cats.
Perhaps the high stakes were the origin of an unusually chippy pregame that saw at least three skirmishes break out among Cats and Cards players on the field. Based on photographic evidence from the Kentucky Kernel, Petrino and a UK football aide, Dan Berezowitz, appeared to have a shoving match. Of the incident, Petrino said, "I don't even really remember all of the instances that went on out there."
Unlike many kids who grow up in Lexington, Bolin's dream was not to wear UK blue and white. When he was little, a next door neighbor was a Tennessee fan, so Bolin adopted the Volunteers as his team.
Yet going into his junior year at Lexington Catholic, Bolin had developed into a top QB prospect. By then, he said he was open to a UK recruiting pitch. He was scheduled to go to then-Kentucky coach Joker Phillips' summer camp.
As Bolin explained in February 2013, before he went to camp, word got out in the Lexington media that if he did well, he would get a Kentucky scholarship offer.
Bolin felt like he did well in the camp. He said various UK assistants told him he did. Yet the scholarship offer did not come. Bolin was hurt and embarrassed.
So when Louisville offered him in September of his junior year, he jumped on it. The staff of ex-U of L coach Charlie Strong stuck with Bolin even after a torn ACL ended his high school career.
Bolin sat out last season as a redshirt. Then, Strong left for Texas. Needing to perform well in spring practice to impress Petrino, Bolin instead tore a meniscus and had to have surgery.
"He was injured over the summer so he didn't get to compete or be in the running (to start) in August," Petrino said. "The thing he always does is, Kyle works really hard. He works hard in meetings. He worked hard even getting limited reps."
On Saturday, Bolin looked — mostly — like a seasoned vet. Perhaps most impressive was how he handled adversity. In the second quarter, he made a bad read, threw into coverage and watched UK's Fred Tiller turn his pass into a 40-yard pick-six.
Then, with only 9:42 left in the game, UK star Alvin "Bud" Dupree hit Bolin just as he was starting his throwing motion, forcing the ball out. UK's Mike Douglas picked up the fumble and rumbled 30 yards for a TD that put the Cats ahead 33-28.
Bolin kept his cool, and kept leading TD drives.
When Kentucky took a 40-37 lead after an epic TD run by Stanley "Boom" Williams with only 5:31 left, Bolin led U of L on an 81-yard scoring drive that won the game.
The Lexington kid found his helmet, kept his head and ended the UK season — playing quarterback for U of L.
"This is all just surreal," Kyle Bolin said. "Ridiculous."