LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Robbie McAtee tackled Eldred King at the 1-yard line as time expired to preserve Kentucky's 20-14 victory over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday night.
McAtee's game-saving ankle tackle came after Middle Tennessee quarterback Joe Craddock heaved a desperation pass 61 yards in what appeared to be a last-second victory for the Blue Raiders. Instead, McAtee's tackle kept Kentucky undefeated (3-0) and prevented the Blue Raiders (1-2) from a second straight win over a major conference foe, having beaten Maryland a week earlier.
Mike Hartline threw the first two touchdown passes of his Kentucky career. What was expected to be a timeshare at quarterback for the Wildcats ended up being Hartline's job alone, at least for one week, as freshman speedster Randall Cobb hurt an ankle on a special teams play in the first quarter and didn't return.
There was no immediate word on the extent of Cobb's injury.
Twice Hartline led Kentucky's offense into the end zone after the Blue Raiders had gained the lead.
The Wildcats took the lead for good, 17-14, early in the fourth quarter on a 6-yard toss from Hartline to Derrick Locke. The play was set up by three Hartline passes of 10 yards or longer -- one preserved by an acrobatic one-handed catch from Dicky Lyons Jr.
Hartline was 28-for-47 with 254 yards and no interceptions.
While the game was a breakout for Hartline, who was booed a week earlier against Norfolk State during Cobb's three-TD performance, it was a rough evening for Kentucky kicker Lones Seiber and, to a lesser extent, the Wildcats' previously unscathed defense.
Seiber halted three Kentucky drives with missed field goal attempts and had another one blocked, setting up Middle Tennessee's last chance. He did make two others, including a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter that stretched the lead to 6.
Kentucky's defense had kept opposing offenses out of the end zone the first two games -- a feat previously accomplished 50 years earlier. But the streak came to an end in the first quarter when Joe Craddock dumped off a short pass to tailback Desmond Gee, who sprinted past Kentucky linebacker Braxton Kelley and got solid blocking downfield for a 62-yard score.
Craddock completed 21 of 37 passes for 355 yards and two TDs.
The Wildcats' defense made plays when they were most needed, though.
Kentucky's Micah Johnson picked up a fumbled pitch to give the defense new life. Wildcats advanced to the 1, and Hartline used play-action on first down to find tight end Maurice Grinter to tie the game at 7.
Safety Marcus McClinton also had a key interception late in the fourth quarter. The Blue Raiders got the ball back once more but turned it over on downs, allowing Kentucky to run the clock down before Seiber's blocked 33-yard attempt.
The Blue Raiders' spread offense gave Kentucky's secondary fits in the first half, albeit with little to show for it. Among the missed opportunities was a dazzling catch made by Malcolm Beyah over Shomari Moore, which Beyah took for 52 yards. Beyah later scored from 22 yards out in the third quarter to give the Blue Raiders a 14-10 lead.