Date story was published: Sunday, September 22, 2002
The Kentucky football team had plenty of reasons to be jacked up for yesterday's game with Middle Tennessee.
For one, the Cats figured to be antsy to hit the field after the NCAA nixed their bowl appeal earlier this week.And secondly, a win over the Blue Raiders would give the Cats their best start in 18 years heading into next week's showdown with Florida in the Swamp.
But if the Cats were indeed lagging just a little early on, the Blue Raiders certainly found a way to get the Big Blue mojo working just before halftime.
With the Cats clinging to a 24-16 lead, an exchange between UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen and Middle Tennessee defensive tackle Jerry Vanderpool set off a bench-clearing brawl following the final play of the second quarter.
When the dust settled, two players from both sides were ejected, and there was a ticked-off group of Wildcats.
MTSU struck first to open the third period and closed to within 24-22, but after that it was all UK, as they scored the game's final 20 points to cruise to a 44-22 victory in front of 60,584 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.
The win secured UK's first 4-0 start since 1984, and the players said the melee just added more fuel to their already-burning fire.
"I think that pumped us up coming out for the second half," said senior running back Artose Pinner, who had yet another standout performance with 163 yards rushing and three touchdowns. "It's about respect. Coming into somebody's backyard and starting something like that showed that they have no respect for us at all."
"At halftime we talked about not letting somebody come into our house and get after us like that," said junior receiver Derek Abney said. "So we were ready to come out and take it to `em."
UK Coach Guy Morriss said he just delivered one message in the locker room.
"I just told them I'm not interested in winning the fight; I just want to win the ball game," he said.
But it was Middle Tennessee who took the second-half kickoff and marched 80 yards in seven plays. Dwone Hicks' 16-yard run closed the gap to 24-22, but quarterback Andrico Hines' potential tying two-point conversion pass to David Youell was wiped out by an offensive pass interference call, and Brian Kelly missed the extra-point attempt.
From there UK dominated. On third-and-goal from the MTSU 13, Lorenzen flipped a one-handed pass under heavy pressure over the middle to Pinner, who scooped it up and rambled in for the touchdown. Taylor Begley's extra-point attempt was blocked, however, leaving it a one-possession ballgame at 30-22.
The Blue Raiders then drove to the UK 26, but Hines was stopped a yard short on a fourth-and-4 option keeper.
Lorenzen, who completed 22 of 31 passes for 305 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, picked up a MTSU blitz and hit Aaron Boone over the middle. The 6-3, 206-pound senior raced 72 yards for a score to make it 37-22, UK.
Pinner, who had a highlight-reel 55-yard touchdown run against Indiana last week, took things a step further this week.
He took a pitch from Lorenzen, spun away from a tackle at the line of scrimmage, broke through two arm tackles, lost his shoe at the MTSU 35 and still raced down the left sideline for a 54-yard scoring run for the final margin.
"I was thinking to myself, should I try to keep (the shoe) on and slow up, or should I kick it off and keep running?" Pinner said. "So I just kicked it off and kept going for the touchdown."
Pinner finished with his third consecutive 100-yard game, compiling 163 yards on 24 carries while catching three passes for 19 yards.
"I'm going to have to get him a cape," Morriss said of Pinner. "The guy's unbelievable."
Middle Tennessee was outscored 36-0 in the first quarter of its two losses to Alabama and Tennessee, and the Blue Raiders got off to another slow start yesterday.
UK took the opening drive 85 yards in eight plays, resulting in a 13-yard TD run by Pinner, to go up 7-0 three minutes into the game.
UK safety David Johnson then recovered a Hicks fumble at the MTSU 33, and Lorenzen hit a wide-open Abney in the end zone on the next play to give the Cats a quick 14-point lead with 9:25 left in the first period.
ReShard Lee fumbled at his own 26, and Andrew Hopewell's recovery set up a 49-yard field goal by Begley to make it 17-0 at the 7:33 mark of the opening quarter.
MTSU Coach Andy McCollum said his team was done in by its slow start.
"When you play good SEC teams on the road, you don't have much room for error," he said. "And once again, we came out and put the ball on the ground and got ourselves in a hole."