Dec 29, 2023; Jacksonville, FL, USA;  Clemson Tigers running back Phil Mafah (7) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second quarter during the Gator Bowl at EverBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

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Phil Mafah (4 TDs), Clemson topple Kentucky late in Gator Bowl

Phil Mafah rushed for a Gator Bowl-record four touchdowns, including the decisive score with 17 seconds left, to help Clemson post a come-from-behind 38-35 victory over Kentucky on Friday at Jacksonville, Fla.

Mafah scored three touchdowns in the final quarter as the Tigers tallied 28 points to overcome an 11-point deficit. Kentucky committed four turnovers in the final quarter with Clemson’s Shelton Lewis making the game-sealing interception with nine seconds left.

Barrett Carter had two key fourth-quarter takeaways for Clemson (9-4), which won its fifth straight game. Cade Klubnik was 30-of-41 passing for 264 yards and one interception. Mafah rushed for 71 yards for the Tigers.

Barion Brown accounted for three scores, including a kickoff return, for Kentucky (7-6), which lost for the sixth time in eight games.

Ray Davis rushed 1 yard for a touchdown to give Kentucky a 35-30 lead with 2:39 remaining. Davis rushed for 63 yards and stretched his single-season school record to 21 total touchdowns.

But the lead didn’t hold up as the Tigers drove 68 yards on 12 plays for Mafah’s go-ahead score prior to a two-point conversion throw.

Devin Leary completed 16 of 27 passes for 306 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for Kentucky. Brown also rushed for a score and caught one, while Dane Key also had a scoring reception.

Kentucky led 21-10 after Brown returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. It was Brown’s third kickoff return score of the season.

But the Wildcats committed three turnovers in the first eight-plus minutes of the fourth quarter to help the Tigers rally.

Clemson moved within five on the first play of the quarter when Mafah scored on a 1-yard run. A two-point conversion pass was incomplete.

Jonathan Weitz booted a 28-yard field goal as the Tigers cut their deficit to 21-19 with seven minutes remaining. The Field goal was set up by Carter’s interception that gave Clemson the ball at the Kentucky 37-yard line.

On Kentucky’s next offensive play, Brown fumbled and Carter returned it to the Wildcats’ 29. On the following play, Mafah raced 29 yards to put Clemson ahead and Klubnik tossed a two-point conversion pass to Tyler Brown to give the Tigers a 27-21 lead with 6:45 left in the game.

Three plays later, Kentucky was back ahead at 28-27. Leary threw deep to a wide-open Brown, who finished a 60-yard pass play.

Clemson opened the scoring on Weitz’s 39-yard field goal, but the Wildcats took a 7-3 lead when Brown raced 22 yards for a score with five minutes left in the opening quarter.

The Tigers regained the lead when Mafah scored from the 1 with 10:17 left in the first half.

Kentucky took a 14-10 lead on Leary’s 5-yard scoring pass to Key with 7:44 remaining in the half.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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