Date story was published||| Sunday, October 12, 1997
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The afterglow lasted six intoxicating days and seven minutes and 16 seconds into the first quarter yesterday when Craig Yeast fielded a South Carolina punt and burst up the middle 85 yards for a touchdown.
Kentucky's second touchdown.
In the first 7:16.
"We had a chance to put them away early," said Yeast afterward, shaking his head at opportunity and a game lost. "But then they just seized the momentum."
Or did momentum seize Kentucky?
Either way the end result was the same. The celebrated team with the hot quarterback and the hot coach and no goal posts, ran into what Hal Mumme had called the wounded rattlesnake that was the South Carolina Gamecocks.
"And they bit us," said Mumme yesterday. "They bit us a couple of times."
Indeed, with Anthony Wright throwing for three touchdowns and safety Arturo Freeman returning an interception for another score, struggling South Carolina overcame an early two-touchdown deficit and knocked off surging Kentucky 38-24 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Wright, a junior quarterback from Vanceboro, N.C., ran for 63 yards and threw for 223 more, including a 12-yard TD throw to Kerry Hood that caught the Cats at 14-14 midway through period two.
Then cornerback Kevin Brooks deflected a Tim Couch pass off of Freeman, a junior free safety, to send the ball ricocheting skyward. Freeman caught it , wheeled, broke a Lance Mickelsen tackle, and sprinted 49 yards down the sideline to make it 21-14.
In the second half, Carolina's defense twice stopped Kentucky inside the 10-yard line - allowing a field goal the first trip; blocking a field goal the second time - and Wright hit redshirt freshman Jermale Kelly with a pair of 26-yard scoring passes.
Thus the Gamecocks celebrated homecoming by making each team 3-3 overall and 1-3 in the SEC.
"We needed that victory, no question about it," said Coach Brad Scott, who had been under fire. "I think we played to the level we have been expecting to play."
Kentucky got its big victory last week, the not-to-be-forgotten first victory over Alabama in 75 years. Mumme said the euphoria would not be a problem. His team would get back to business. But there were some ominous signs.
The bandwagoneers popped out of the woodwork, risking torn rotator cuffs with their constant pats on the back. One well-meaning couple told Mumme yesterday that they had not seen the Cats play, but after last week's win had decided to drive from Columbus, Ohio, to Columbia, S.C., to join in the fun.
And while Mumme's first edition is undoubtedly much improved and more dangerous (especially on offense) than a year ago, it is not talented enough (especially on defense) to win on an off day. Not in the SEC.
"We came down here with as much momentum as anyone in the country," said defensive tackle Mark Jacobs. "I guess we thought we could just show up and we'd get respect, but that's not how it is."
"I know our play was less than inspired in terms of the four full quarters of play that we had last week," Mumme said. "But there's a whole bunch of intangibles there. You play in front of a home crowd last week that helps inspire you. Here you play in hostile territory with 80,000 screaming against you. I don't want to lay it on the kids because I don't think it was a matter of them overcelebrating. I just think we didn't seize the momentum when we had the chance."
South Carolina snatched it, the game's true turnaround play probably being Freeman's snatch of the deflected Couch throw.
"I said, 'Oh Lord, let me catch it,'" Freeman said. "When I caught it and started running and saw people blocking I thought 'We ain't never practiced this.'"
Plus Carolina discovered an offensive identity, using two tight ends and running sophomore Boo Williams (93 yards, 24 carries) at the Cats, much as Mississippi State did Sept. 6. Then on passing downs, Scott spread the field with four wideouts as Wright threw underneath for key gains .
"You could see on film what good athletes they had," said UK defensive coordinator Mike Major. "We did a better job the second half going at angles instead of a direct charge, but they were hard to stop."
Kentucky only stopped at the goal line. Down 24-21, the Cats marched from the 44 to a first-and-goal at the USC 5-yard line. There the drive halted and Seth Hanson kicked a 23-yard field goal and a 24-24 tie.
After Carolina went ahead again, the Cats went from their own 35 to a first-and-goal at the USC 3-yard line. White got one yard up the middle on first down. Lance Mickelsen nearly made an acrobatic grab on second down before the ball fell incomplete. On third down, Couch missed Yeast at the goal line.
"It was my fault on the goal line," Couch said. "I missed Craig there where we kind of had a mix-up. I just didn't execute."
"I wasn't expecting him to (throw) as quick as he did," Yeast said. "It was my fault."
Fourth-and-goal at the two with 6:13 left, Mumme opted for the three. "It was a tough decision," he said. "I thought if we could get the three our defense would rise up."
The Cats got zero. Lee Wiggins broke through and blocked Hanson's 20-yard chip shot. The hosts promptly marched 84 yards for the put-away score.
"My hat's off to South Carolina," Mumme said. "They just gave an inspired effort."
Now it is the rattlesnake's turn to handle momentum.
Said Wright, with an unintended double meaning: "You can't win one game and get all hysterical."