Mark Story: Cats treated to win on tricked-out night

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 2, 2013 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

Maybe there were angry Halloween spirits still lingering over Lexington on Saturday night.

Perhaps a pack of black cats infested Commonwealth Stadium.

Could it be that Wes Craven was secretly filming what was supposed to be the University of Kentucky's 2013 homecoming?

On a night when the Wildcats broke a five-game losing streak with a 48-14 pasting of Alabama State, bizarre things just kept happening.

The eeriness started before the game.

When Kentucky took the field to receive the opening kickoff, conspicuous by his absence was Wildcats top return man and leading receiver Javess Blue. The junior-college transfer was not on the field when the Kentucky offense broke the huddle, either. The inquiring minds in the press box wanted to know: Where was Blue?

UK publicists didn't know.

At halftime, the UK Radio Network broke the news. In pre-game warm-ups, Blue had taken a fastball in the face, causing substantial swelling around an eye. He had to be held out of the game.

"He was out there throwing the ball around, like the guys do, just trying to get loose, and he took it in the eye," Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said afterward. "It closed up on him and he couldn't see."

The weirdness was just getting started.

Kentucky's third touchdown of the game came on a 6-yard out pattern from Jalen Whitlow to a wide-open Alexander Montgomery. So far, so good.

However, after catching the pass, Montgomery, a true freshman from Weston, Fla., and teammates tried one of those celebratory leaping chest bumps that are all the rage. This time, the attempt knocked Montgomery off balance and he landed awkwardly.

The result was an injured knee that sent Montgomery to the locker room for X-rays. He came back out for the second half on crutches.

"With Alex, it was really disappointing," Stoops said. "Hopefully, it's not serious. But I'm afraid it might be. We've got to learn to celebrate better."

In the history of football, has a team ever lost two of its better wide-outs to a pre-game football in the face and an end zone celebration gone awry?

Yet the spookiness was just firing up.

The game between Kentucky (2-6) of the SEC and Alabama State (6-3) of the Football Championship Subdivision was a festival of fumbles, the ball placed on the ground a whopping eight times combined.

Kentucky's second touchdown came after senior running back Raymond Sanders — implored by his head coach last week to do more to break and/or elude tacklers — made a determined, spinning run from the Alabama State 17 to the Hornets' 1-yard line.

Where he fumbled.

The ball rolled into the end zone where UK junior wide-out Demarco Robinson won the scramble for the football and was rewarded with a touchdown.

It wasn't even Robinson's strangest fumble recovery of the game.

Early in the second quarter, an Alabama State punt hit an unsuspecting UK punt-team member, linebacker Josh Forrest, in the back of the head. As Hornets players converged on the ball, Cats return man Robinson squirted between them, picked up the football and jetted off for a 17-yard return.

In spite of the fact UK fumbled three times, it lost none of them. The Long-Suffering UK Football Fan might say the oddest thing of all Saturday night was the ball kept seeming to bounce Kentucky's way.

"I don't know if there is any magic to (that)," Stoops said. "But I do think when you are playing hard and hustling, things are more likely to go your way."

On this night, unusual events even took less dramatic form.

The UK offense entered Saturday having converted only 22 of 88 third-down tries all season. Admittedly against an FCS defense, but statistically a good one, the Wildcats converted eight of 17. What we thought in the pre-season was going to be Kentucky's Air Raid redux has, by necessity, morphed into an infantry assault. The Wildcats ran for a robust 233 yards against Alabama State. Whitlow accounted for 101 of those himself, 88 coming on a touchdown run on the game's second play from scrimmage.

In this two-year stretch when Kentucky now stands 4-16 in its last 20 games, perhaps the least routine occurrence on a night when wackiness reigned was the Wildcats won.

"We desperately needed a win," Stoops said, "and we got one."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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