November 29th, 2014

Bolin a fairy tale-like superhero

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Bolin a fairy tale-like superhero
U of L’s Kyle Bolin had a day against UK that even Hollywood movie-makers might not believe / photo and cover photo from U of L athletic department

It was only the second quarter and already the Louisville Cardinals found themselves down at the end of Lonely Street at Heartbreak Hotel. The scoreboards in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium showed them trailing underdog Kentucky 13-0. And out there on the turf in the middle of the field, starting quarterback Reggie Bonnafon was writhing in pain with a knee injury that would knock him out of the game.

For most of Season One in the crazy saga that brought coach Bobby Petrino back to Louisville for a return engagement, Bonnafon had shared the QB position with Will Gardner. When Gardner’s season was ended prematurely by injury, Bonnafon stepped in and led the Cardinals to an historic 31-28 win over Notre Dame in South Bend. He looked every inch the quarterback of the present and the future.

But now what were the Cards going to do? Who in the name of Johnny Unitas was the third-string quarterback? And then here he came, No. 14 in your programs, a redshirt freshman from, of all places, Lexington, Ky., the home of the Wildcats. His name was Kyle Bolin and he had a pretty good career going at Lexington Catholic High School until a torn ACL caused his college stock to drop faster than a UK basketball early season, ah, opponent.

While Gardner and Bonnafon were getting ALL the meaningful snaps in 11 games, Bolin bided his time, waiting to be needed. He was never mentioned in any of the pre-game speculation. But Petrino, to his credit, never ignored nor forgot him.

He had him ready to go, just in case. Still, even the taciturn U of L coach had to be surprised at just how well Bolin played before a full house, a national TV audience and a representative from the Orange Bowl.

It was the stuff of fairy tales. Had a screenwriter taken the script to a studio, he would have been laughed out of Hollywood. Corny stuff like this does not happen in real life. It went out of style with “George Gipp, All-American” and other schmaltzy movies of the 1930s and ‘40s.

But Bolin led the Cardinals to a wild-and-crazy 44-40 win that brought a bitter end to UK’s slim bowl hopes and left the Cats with a 5-7 record. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 381 yards. He threw three TD passes to DeVante Parker, the senior wide receiver who will be playing on Sundays next fall. Those three TD receptions gave Parker 33 for his career, tying the school record.

I swear I am not making this up.

Oh, sure, Bolin wasn’t perfect. He had to make a few mistakes just to make the plot a bit more plausible. So he botched a snap and threw a pick-six right in the gut of a UK defender and lost control of a pass late in the game that a UK linebacker scooped up and trundled to the end zone.

Those early Christmas gifts accounted for 17 Wildcat points. But Bolin didn’t rattle. He kept on firing, kept on leading, kept on making heads shake in amazement. In the final minutes, he led the Cards on a scoring drive that culminated when Brandon Radcliff blasted into the end zone with 2:47 to go. The extra point gave the Cards a 44-40 lead.

And then Bolin retired to the sideline to see if U of L’s defense could finally find a way to stop UK’s offense, which consisted largely of quarterback Patrick Towles’ always-a-threat passes, tailback Stanley “Boom” Williams’ slashes (126 yards on 18 carries) and four field goals by Austin MacGinnis.

But now, trailing by four, UK needed more than a field goal. It needed a TD. And Towles seemed up to that task until he faded back and threw the ball right to U of L defender Gerod Holliman, who caught it with 35 seconds to go and returned it 60 yards to the UK 5-yard line. It was Holliman’s 14th interception this season, tying the NCAA D-I record.

After letting his team try one running play, Petrino told Bolin to take a knee and let the clock run out. It was the first display of good sportsmanship on a day when the teams engaged in a mid-field scuffle an hour before kickoff. Even Petrino got into that one, going head-to-head with a UK assistant.

Unfortunately, that set the tone for the rest of the day. The game was sprinkled liberally with penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. Every now and then, a fight seemed on the brink of breaking out. Football fights are the dumbest kind of all because they’re the only ones where the only person who can possible get hurt is the one throwing a blow.

But at the end, none of the unseemly behavior could detract from the magic of Kyle Bolin. He became an instant hero to backup quarterbacks everywhere, not to mention players who are bypassed by their hometown university. Lots of guys dream this dream, but it comes true about as often as Steve Spurrier says something nice about Clemson.

Heck, I still might try to sell the script. You think Johnny Depp is too old to play Bolin?  Do you think we can find a role for Jennifer Lawrence? Somebody get my agent on the phone. We need to talk.

 

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