Date story was published: Sunday, November 14, 1999
NASHVILLE -- Six is sweet.
But six sure was scary.
It took Jeff Snedegar's recovery of a fumble by Vanderbilt's Rodney Williams with 2:14 remaining last night before Kentucky escaped with a 19-17 win over Vanderbilt, giving the Cats bowl eligibility with their sixth victory.
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Just a minute before, UK appeared to have possibly given away that sixth win. On a third-and-inches at the UK 39-yard line, quarterback Dusty Bonner fumbled the snap from center Nolan DeVaughn on what was to be a quarterback sneak.
Vanderbilt nose guard Ryan Aulds recovered the fumble with 3:10 remaining.
"You're just praying for a miracle after that," UK Coach Hal Mumme said. "We tried to run the safest possible play to get six inches. Nolan said that they hit at the ball and he never got it up, but I don't know if that's what happened."
Bonner saslug: "The guy hit Nolan before he could snap it. He timed our snap, but I take the blame for it. I felt horrible but Anthony White came over and told me to keep my head up, that something good was gonna happen."
Did it ever.
On the Commodores' own third-and-short from the UK 31-yard line, Williams appeared to have the first down, only to lose the ball on a hit from Cats strong safety Patrick Wiggins (making his first career start). Snedegar jumped on the loose ball.
"I was just trying to make the hit and not let him get that yard," Wiggins said. "I didn't see the ball pop out, I heard the crowd roar, and that's when I knew it."
UK defensive coordinator Mike Major had a clear view of the play. "I was looking right at it," he said. "He hit it right there with the side of his face and knocked the ball loose. He had missed a tackle before that and we had told him to keep his head up. I'm glad we did that."
The Cats ran out the clock, improving their record to 6-4, making Hal Mumme's team eligible for back-to-back bowls for the first time since 1983-84. Where the Cats end up, however, was tossed up in the air by Tennessee's 28-24 loss to Arkansas yesterday, possibly knocking the Vols out of a BCS bowl.
"You've got to give it to those guys (Vanderbilt)," Mumme said. "They made our life miserable. I feel bad for them that they had to lose this game, but I'm really proud of our kids. At the beginning of the year, I don't think you would have gotten many people to bet on us going to a bowl game. You wouldn't have gotten many takers."
Before Wiggins' hit and Snedegar's recovery, last night's biggest play had belonged to Quentin McCord, who had practiced just once since the Oct. 23 Georgia game because of a sprained arch.
"We knew were were just a split second away from breaking one all night long and Quentin did it," UK tight end James Whalen said.
On a third-and-11 from the UK 20-yard line, Bonner hit McCord on a crossing pattern. Vandy's All-Southeastern Conference linebacker Jamie Winborn missed the tackle, and McCord was off and running, 80 yards for a touchdown and a 19-10 Kentucky lead with 2:42 left in the third. It was Kentucky's longest play from scrimmage for the season.
"Basically it was just Quentin's speed," Bonner said. "He was coming underneath. I saw him and I thought I was gonna hit the official, but he did a good job of getting out of the way. After Quentin caught it and turned it up, I knew they weren't going to catch him."
They didn't, and the Cats had landed a big punch.
"In a game like this, you just keep trying for the big plays," Mumme said. "When you play a Joe Lee Dunn or (Woody) Widenhofer, guys who are masters of the blitz, it's like a heavyweight fighter going for the knockout punch."
Then, when Vandy had pulled within 19-17 at the 5:20 mark, Bonner scrambled 19 yards on a third-and-10 from his own 11-yard line -- the quarterback actually retreated to his goal line before taking off -- for a first down.
Vanderbilt cut the lead to 19-17 with 5:20 left on a 2-yard pass from quarterback Greg Zolman to tight end Elliott Carson.
The score came after the Commodores' John Markham had missed a 53-yard field goal with 7:45 remaining. Kentucky responded with three straight incompletions, taking all of 28 seconds off the clock.
Taking over at 7:17, the Commodores marched 62 yards in five plays. The big play was a 31-yard pass from Zolman to Tavarus Hogans, taking the ball to the 2-yard line. On the next play, Zolman found an open Carson in the back of the end zone.
Vandy had threatened earlier in the fourth quarter, only to be stopped on a fourth-and-1 at the Wildcat 20-yard line. Anthony Wajda and Dennis Johnson combined to stop Jared McGrath for no gain, turning the ball back over to the Cats.
After a 10-10 halftime tie, Kentucky took the lead just 1:52 into the second half on a safety.
Kentucky's Otis Grigsby and Johnson combined to pressure Zolman in the Commodores end zone. Zolman threw the ball into the leg of offensive tackle Raminte Byndom. The result was an intentional grounding penalty, and when that's called in the end zone, it's ruled a safety. The play gave Kentucky a 12-10 lead.
Vanderbilt outgained Kentucky 244-124 the first half.
A Kentucky goal-line stand kept Vanderbilt from assuming the lead. The Commodores had earned a first-and-goal at the UK 2-yard line. But three straight running plays yielded no yards. Markham was forced to kick a 20-yard field goal, tying the score at 10.
A 50-yard burst up the middle by White set up a 33-yard Marc Samuel field goal to make it 10-7.
Vanderbilt tied the score 7-7 by picking on UK corner Eric Kelly, obviously limping from a hamstring injury. With Kelly trailing, Tavarus Hogans caught a 26-yard pass. On the next play, Hogans got behind Kelly again, this time near the right hash, gathered a Zolman pass and scurried the final 20 yards for the touchdown.
The game's first score was set up by a Vandy mistake. Jimmy Williams ran into his own player, Harold Lercius, while trying to field an Andy Smith punt, and tried to catch it anyway. He could not. Kentucky's Anthony Kelly recovered the ball at the Vanderbilt 12-yard line.
Two plays later, White scored from 3 yards out.
Zolman completed nine of 17 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but was also intercepted once. That came on the Commodores' first series when UK strong safety Patrick Wiggins, making his first career start, snagged a tipped ball.
Bonner completed 10 of 20 passes in the first half, but for just 50 yards. He finished 14-for-31 for 141 yards.
The crowd was estimated at 41,000. Vandy fans outnumbered UK fans, but not by much.