Cats rise up, rally

ccosby@herald-leader.comSeptember 20, 2009 

If Rich Brooks had dreamed on Friday night about all the bad things that were going to happen to his team against archrival Louisville, he probably would have woken up screaming and wrapped his arms around his wife, Karen.

Brooks had already been expecting the Cardinals to look like a different team than the one that bumbled its way through an uneventful win over Indiana State.

That held true, as Justin Burke and the U of L skill players gave the Cats all they wanted.

UK also proceeded to do the following:

■ Squander a pivotal scoring opportunity just before halftime due to clock mismanagement in the press box and by the coaching staff.

■ Turn the ball over on three consecutive possessions in a third quarter in which the offense ran only four plays the entire period and left the defense vulnerable and tired.

■ Lose arguably their best player, senior cornerback Trevard Lindley, late in the third quarter with the game still hanging in the balance.

That sounds like the recipe for a loss and, granted, UK's uneven play and top-ranked Florida's arrival in Commonwealth Stadium might mean Brooks still doesn't great sleep the next couple of nights.

But his nightmares should be kept to a minimum after the Wildcats overcame the gaffes and blunders to escape with a 31-27 win over its archrival in front of a crowd of 70,988.

After controlling the ball the entire third quarter, Louisville took a 27-24 lead with 7:49 on a 66-yard yard bomb from Burke to Trent Guy.

But the Cats stood firm. Mike Hartline hit Randall Cobb on a 12-yard fade to put UK back ahead 31-27 with 4:28 left, and the Kentucky defense got a Sam Maxwell interception and a batted-down Hail Mary pass as time expired on Louisville's final two possessions to preserve the win.

Brooks said he liked the way his team responded to "absolute pressure and critical situations."

"Three, four, five years ago, if those things would have happened, we would have lost the game, no question," Brooks said. "I think the team, over the last 3½ years, has learned that we have playmakers, too. We can overcome mistakes or good plays by other teams. I don't want us to put ourselves in that position all the time, but we've got playmakers, too, and some of them stood up and made plays."

The UK players said the win under adverse conditions was a sign of a different culture surrounding Wildcats football these days.

"If those things would have started happening to some of those old (Kentucky) teams, everybody would have held their head down and gave up," senior tailback Alfonso Smith said. "But we all kept fighting."

The Cards got off to a nice start, taking a 7-3 lead a 6-yard Victor Anderson run with 3:51 in the first quarter. But Louisville's lead was short-lived because Derrick Locke took the kickoff, veered toward the left sideline and bolted 100 yards untouched for a TD to put the Cats back in front 10-7.

UK then appeared on the verge of taking control of the game when Bilal Powell was stuffed by Taylor Wyndham for a 3-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 option pitch from the UK 12 and John Conner's 2-yard run pushed the lead to 17-7 with 2:47 left in the second.

The Cats got the ball back late in the period and were driving for a score that might have put the game out of reach. However, with 15 seconds left and no timeouts, Hartline threw an ill-advised short pass to Chris Matthews in the flat, and Matthews was stopped at the 10. But the clock never started on the play because of miscommunication between the field and press box, and officials ruled that time would have expired if not for the error, which ended the first half with the score 17-7.

Things snowballed from there. Brooks said he warned his team at halftime that the second-half kickoff would be the most important play of the game, and Trent Guy ran it back 65 yards to the UK 34. The defense did manage to hold the Cards to a 23-yard Ryan Payne field goal at 11:29.

But Locke coughed up the ensuing kickoff at his own 44, giving the Cards great field position for a potential tying score. Once again, Louisville failed to punch it in. Payne's 28-yard field-goal attempt hit the right upright and bounced straight back.

Kentucky gave the ball right back to Louisville on its second play from scrimmage of the third quarter, when Hart line telegraphed a quick out to Cobb that was picked off by Johnny Patrick at the UK 25. Louisville still couldn't get it in the end zone, but Payne did hit on a 42-yard field goal that trimmed the margin to 17-13 with 4:58 in the third.

Hartline then lost the ball on an option keeper, and U of L recovered at its own 41.

Burke then started to find his groove. He scrambled to avoid pressure before finding Long for a gain of 21 on a third-and-13 and then delivered a nifty 16-yard run to get the Cards to the UK 5 on the final play of the third quarter.

Louisville went back ahead 20-17 when Burke hit tight end Cameron Graham for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 14:16 remaining. And on top of that, the UK defense was gassed after being on the field the entire quarter.

"It's unacceptable to have the cascade of turnovers right after another, and then you have your defense on the field virtually the whole third quarter," Brooks said. "Our guys were worn slick. I'm amazed the time of possession ended up as close as it was. I thought they would have had the ball 40-something minutes."

Things started to get tight on the UK sidelines.

"It's nerve-wracking," defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "You're on the bench, and people are behind you, talking to you. It's not a comfortable thing. Coaches get nervous. Everyone gets nervous. If you say you're not nervous when that happens, you're a liar."

While Kentucky might have been a little jittery, they didn't flinch.

The offense marched on a 12-play, 73-yard scoring drive to retake the lead at 24-20 with 8:55 remaining. Cobb picked up 27 yards on a third-down screen pass, and Locke eventually scored from 2 yards out.

It took U of L just over a minute to strike back. Burke hit Guy over the top for a 66-yard touchdown pass to make it 27-24 Louisville at 7:49. With Lindley on the sideline nursing a bruised knee, Guy got behind cornerback Paul Warford for the big scoring play.

The U of L defense then held, but UK got a much-needed break when Guy fumbled the punt and A.J. Nance fell on it at the Louisville 24.

Hartline, who finished 20-of-27 for 178 yards, then lofted one to Cobb on the left edge of the end zone, and the 5-foot-11, 190-pound sophomore made a leaping grab.

Corey Peters then tipped a Burke pass, and Maxwell picked it off at the UK 19 and returned it 17 yards to the 36. U of L got one more opportunity, but Burke's desperation pass as time expired was knocked down by Maxwell near the goal line.

And while it might not have been how Brooks dreamt it, the UK coach also gave the Cardinals credit for battling.

"The other team is going to make plays on you if they're a decent team and a good team and force you to do things that don't look good sometimes," Brooks said. "That's college football. It was a wild, really good, exciting football game. Thank God we won."

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