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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Patrick Towles threw a 20-yard touchdown pass and scored on a 1-yard run, and Kentucky made three fourth-quarter interceptions to hold off Vanderbilt 17-7 on Saturday to end a 17-game Southeastern Conference losing streak.
Though the Wildcats (3-1, 1-1) sent 56,940 away happy with their first conference win since November 2011 against Tennessee, there was no wild on-field celebration by Kentucky players after escaping the Commodores (1-4, 0-3). Coach Mark Stoops congratulated several players and shook hands with Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason before departing to cheers.
All of the game's scoring came in the first half with Towles doing the work with his arm and feet. He connected with Ryan Timmons to cap a 99-yard, 13-play opening drive, then followed Austin MacGinnis' 44-yard field goal with a 1-yard sneak just before halftime.
Kentucky's defense, particularly defensive back Marcus McWilson, A.J. Stamps and Ashely Lowery, kept the Commodores from scoring again with timely pickoffs. The Wildcats held the Commodores to just 57 second-half yards and 139 total, the fewest total yards Kentucky has given up to an SEC opponent since Vanderbilt had 91 in 1996.
Towles completed 23 of 30 passes for 201 of Kentucky's 384 yards but lost a fourth-quarter fumble and had a second-quarter interception returned 13 yards by Darrius Sims for Vanderbilt's only points. He was also sacked four times.
Despite Kentucky's inconsistent performance, the victory still was an encouraging step forward for a program seeking respectability after consecutive 2-10 seasons. Most important was finally closing the deal on an opponent for the first time in over two years, a goal the Wildcats came up just short on with a 36-30 triple-overtime loss at Florida two weeks ago.
That disappointing yet thrilling loss stirred its fan base enough to gobble up discounted upper-deck tickets and give Kentucky its biggest crowd this season.
The Wildcats were even 17-point favorites against a Vanderbilt squad that had won the last three games in this series by a 100-14 margin. Though Kentucky didn't cover the spread, being favored spoke volumes about its improvement.
In fact, Kentucky's main concern was avoiding a letdown from the Florida game, especially coming off a bye. The Wildcats showed no effects from that disappointment or the break on their first drive as they drove 99 yards in 13 plays behind Towles' arm and feet.
Besides hitting his first nine passes for 77 yards, including the slant to Timmons for the TD, the sophomore extended the drive with a 21-yard keeper on third-and-11.
Towles completed another short pass before the costly interception to Sims, whose two kickoff returns for touchdowns last week against South Carolina resulted in preventive measures by Kentucky's special teams.
Towles recovered to lead Kentucky to 10 unanswered points by intermission but Kentucky didn't score again.
Then again, Vanderbilt's offense couldn't take advantage of numerous opportunities. Starting its fifth different quarterback in as many games with freshman Wade Freebeck, the Commodores mustered just 114 yards through three quarters and converted just one of eight third-down chances in that span and two of 12 overall.
Then came the interceptions by McWilson, Stamps and Lowery to seal it.