Saturday’s annual Governor’s Cup rivalry game between Louisville and Kentucky was expected to be the last opportunity for UL quarterback Lamar Jackson to impress Heisman Trophy voters before they cast their ballot. Instead, former College of the Desert quarterback Stephen Johnson stole the show.
Johnson, less than a year removed from signing with the Wildcats during his sophomore year at COD, found the end zone on a 75-yard strike through the air on the Kentucky’s first play of the game, and accounted 421 total yards in UK’s 41-38 upset over Jackson’s Cardinals.
Johnson connected on 16 of his 27 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns with a single interception. He also ran the ball for a team-high 83 yards on eight carries. Jackson ran for 171 yards and passes for 281 and a pair of scores, but also threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on a potential game-winning drive with 1:45 to play in the game.
“His decision-making, his accuracy, I thought he was phenomenal,” UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said of Johnson, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “In this type of a situation? He was great. Unbelievable.”
Johnson has helped turn Kentucky’s season around since taking over as the starter in the third game of the season. The Wildcats began the season 0-2 with Johnson on the bench, and have since won seven of 10, with the only losses coming to Tennessee, Georgia and No.1-ranked Alabama.
On the season, Johnson has passes for 1,862 yards and 12 touchdowns versus six interceptions. He’s also ran the ball for 278 yards and a pair of scores. He’s done it a year after passing for 3,210 yards, 34 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 10 games for the Roadrunners.
He signed with Kentucky on Jan. 16, then immediately enrolled at Kentucky and joined the team for spring ball. Three games into his tenure at UK, he was the starter at a Southeastern Conference program.
Johnson was in the Coachella Valley on Oct. 15 during Kentucky’s bye week, and attended COD’s Homecoming football game against rival Mt. San Jacinto College.
“I’m having a blast,” Johnson said on the sideline. “But the SEC is no joke.”
Still, Johnson seems to be fitting right in nicely. Kentucky will play in a bowl game, then Johnson is expected to return for his senior season at UK in 2017.
“Stephen is a remarkable, remarkable young man,” UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said. “I think we need to go get more Stevie Johnsons… His humility, his emotional presence is unbelievable. He’s never too high; he’s never too low. He’s really steady. His Christian faith is very evident to those around him.
“He’s a remarkable young man, and I love his presence. He’s an encourager. He doesn’t have an ounce of pride in him, and it’s been a real pleasure to have him in our program.”
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