It wasn't quite a miracle, but it was close. The main difference this time was that it was pulled off by the boys in blue and there were no fluky Hail Mary's deciding the outcome.
Kentucky pulled off one of the biggest wins in school history last night, outlasting top-ranked Louisiana State 43-37 in three overtimes in front of a frantic crowd of 70,092 at Commonwealth Stadium.
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The thriller helped erase the horrific memories of 2002, when LSU receiver Devery Henderson caught a 75-yard TD pass as time expired to give the Tigers a 33-30 win.
It was only the third win over a No. 1 team for the UK program and the first since beating Mississippi in 1964. Kentucky improves to 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference heading into next week's home game with Florida. The game will kick off at 3:30 and will be nationally televised by CBS. The ESPN College GameDay crew will also be in Lexington for the game.
And if the message wasn't clear before, it is now. The Cats are for real.
"In terms of the oddsmakers, ours wasn't as big of an upset as an Appalachian State beating Michigan or Stanford beating USC," Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said. "I just like to think that we've got a good football team and if we play well enough, we can beat any team in the nation.
"All I know is we're trying to get in the SEC race and be a factor in the championship, and we made a significant step in that direction tonight. Those people who didn't think we're a real contender, maybe that changed tonight."
"We knew we were a great team, we just had to show other people that we were a great team," UK quarterback Andre Woodson said.
"That's just the maturity level of this team," UK senior tight end Jacob Tamme said. "We know we can compete blow for blow with anyone in the country. We showed everyone else tonight."
Brooks said it was perhaps his biggest win in a coaching career that started in 1977.
"It's got to be right up there at the top," Brooks said. "To beat the No. 1 team in the nation, and the way we did it, to keep coming back ... and it wasn't a fluke."
Kentucky linebacker Braxton Kelley stopped LSU running back Charles Scott on fourth-and-2 in the third overtime to seal the win.
The Tigers came in as front-runners for a national title and appeared on their way to a 7-0 mark when they took a 27-14 lead on Colt David's 30-yard field goal with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
But UK came storming back on its next possession, pulling to within 27-21 on Woodson's 8-yard TD pass to Tamme with 1:13 left in the third. UK kicker Lones Seiber then delivered two clutch fourth-quarter field goals, one from 33 yards that brought the Cats to within 27-24 at 7:57 and another that tied the game with 4:21 remaining.
Brooks has watched his team continually make fourth-quarter rallies during its recent renaissance.
"People who have seen football around here know, in the past that would have been real trouble," Brooks said. "But our guys weren't going to let that happen. I can't say enough about the character and the guts of this football team."
"I'm just a lucky guy to be coaching a special group of young men who have been through more than you could have imagined. Whenever it starts to look dark, they dig down and find something extra, and that's what happened tonight."
The Tigers drove to the UK 39-yard line with two seconds left and initially lined up to throw a last-second bomb, much like the 75-yard Hail Mary at the horn that broke the Wildcats' hearts in 2002.
After the two teams traded timeouts, LSU Coach Les Miles opted to let David try a 57-yard field goal. David's kick was long enough but hooked just wide to the left.
Both teams got short touchdown runs in the first overtime, and David's 39-yard field goal gave the Tigers a 37-34 lead in the second overtime.
The Cats then had to send Seiber out for a 43-yard kick to force a third OT. Seiber, a sophomore who has battled inconsistency during his short career, knocked it right down the middle to knot the game up at 37. Seiber has now made his last seven kicks.
"He's gone from the doghouse in everybody's mind to the penthouse," Brooks said of Seiber.
UK got the ball first in the third OT. The Wildcats were whistled for a delay of game on third-and-goal from the 2, pushing them back five yards.
Woodson then dropped back, pump-faked and threw toward the right side of the end zone for Steve Johnson. Johnson, who finished with a game-high seven catches for 134 yards, shook free from LSU corner Jonathan Zenon at the goal line, and Woodson got drilled as he let the ball go.
Johnson, who made the game-winning catch against Louisville, fell backward as he brought the ball in for the go-ahead score. NCAA rules mandate that teams must go for a two-point conversion beginning with the third overtime, but Woodson's pass to Johnson fell incomplete, leaving the score 43-37.
LSU then took over at the UK 25 and chose to play conservatively. Jacob Hester gained six yards on first down but was stuffed for no gain on second down. Hester picked up two yards on third-and-4 from the Kentucky 19, which left them needing two yards to keep their hopes of an undefeated season alive.
Matt Flynn took the snap and handed off to Scott, who had burned the Cats earlier with a 55-yard run to set up his 1-yard TD and then added a 13-yard score. But Kelley stepped in and met Scott head on, stopping him 1 yard short of the first down and bringing the Commonwealth Stadium fans onto the field.
Woodson finished 21-for-38 for 250 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Perhaps most significantly the UK line didn't allow one sack to a defense that led the league with 20.
"The pass protection, I can't emphasize how good that was against those guys who can flat-out rush the passer," Brooks said.
While it wasn't Woodson's best game statistically, Brooks complimented his poise in getting the offense into the right plays. UK ran for 125 yards on 41 carries against an LSU defense that was No. 4 in the nation against the run, allowing 58.5 yards a game.
"For us to do that, it speaks volumes for the job Andre did managing the game at the line of scrimmage," Brooks said. "He got us in the right play, and I know his numbers weren't great, but he was The Man out there tonight. That was an All-American performance right there if I've ever seen one."
The UK running game got a big boost from freshman tailback Derrick Locke.
After LSU started the second half with two long drives to take a 27-14 lead, Locke replaced Tony Dixon, who started the game in place of an injured Rafael Little. Locke had three carries for 21 yards in the drive that brought the Cats to within six, and he finished with 64 yards on 20 carries.
"I can tell you that I'm surprised at how well Kentucky moved the football and surprised at how effective they ran the football," Miles said. "We've got a team that's sick. I did not enjoy this."
Perhaps the biggest sign that UK's program might have finally arrived: Kentucky's bowl eligibility is now an afterthought.
"I forgot about that, because it's really not significant in my mind," Brooks said. "What is significant is that we're 2-1 (in the SEC)."
Date story ran: Sunday, October 14, 2007