Date story was published: Sunday, October 29, 1995
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Two weeks ago they were the rally Cats, with three solid victories and reasons to believe there were more where those came from. Now they are the reeling Cats, their motor stuck in reverse, their turnaround season on the brink of collapse.
"This was another game we could have, should have won," said Kentucky quarterback Billy Jack Haskins.
Instead, this was Mississippi State snapping a four-game losing streak by rallying from a double-digit first-half deficit to dominate the second half and win 42-32 at Scott Field yesterday.
"When the offense scores 32 points, you'd think we can hold the opponent under that," said linebacker Mike Schellenberger. "But we didn't."
Thus this was the Cats ultimately squandering another dynamite performance by junior tailback Moe Williams, who for the second time this season topped the 200-yard mark, rushing for 238 yards on 35 carries and scoring on touchdown runs of 53 and 61 yards.
"The yards don't matter," Williams said. "I'd rather have the win."
And this is a Kentucky team that thinks it should be 5-3 and on the verge of an unexpected bowl bid, but is instead 3-5 and sits at the crossroads of another floundering season.
"Our backs are against the wall," Williams said.
But then maybe that was yesterday's story, as well, only on the opposite side of the field. After a 2-1 start, Jackie Sherrill's Bulldogs had lost four straight, giving up an astronomical 199 points in their previous 16 quarters.
So, with an open date last week with which to tweak -- and not just with the uniforms, in which State wore maroon pants with their maroon jerseys for the first time since 1985 -- Sherrill came up with a defense that after being ripped for 274 yards in the first half turned solid in the final two quarters.
"We knew we had to stop Moe and make them throw, because we knew they didn't throw very well," said State defensive end Larry Williams. "We didn't do that the first half, but the second half we started stinging him."
The first half Williams did the stinging. He turned a Haskins backward pass into a 53-yard touchdown run for UK's first score. He went 57 yards over left tackle to set up his second score, on the way to a 25-14 Kentucky lead 2:13 before halftime.
"We should have been in control on the scoreboard, but we weren't because of some big plays in the kicking game," UK Coach Bill Curry said.
State's Shaston Coleman returned the ensuing kickoff 48 yards, setting up a 4-yard Derrick Taite pass to fullback Nakia Greer for a touchdown. Keffer McGee then ran in the two-point conversion, cutting the Kentucky lead to 25-22 at the half.
Five minutes into the second half, State's Brian Hazelwood kicked a 41-yard field goal to tie the game at 25. Then Lahitia Grant grabbed a 30-yard pass from Taite, leading to a 2-yard McGee touchdown run, and the Bulldogs led 32-25 with 5:04 left in the third quarter.
The lead didn't last long. Two minutes later Williams took an option pitch from Haskins and scooted down the right sideline 61 yards to tie the game 32-32.
But the fourth quarter, which two weeks ago against LSU at Commonwealth Stadium belonged to Kentucky, belonged to the opposition this time. Seven plays into the final period, facing third-and-11 at the State 30-yard line, Curry elected to have Jimmy Carter punt, rather than attempt a field goal into the wind.
Carter's kick was downed at the State 5. But, kicking with the wind, State's Andy Russ boomed a 50-yard punt to the UK 36. "The punter changed field position," Curry said.
Kentucky failed to move, and Carter, facing the wind, managed just a 23- yard punt to the State 43. First play, McGee broke around right end, scooting 40 yards to the UK 17. That set up his own 1-yard touchdown run for a 39-32 Bulldogs lead with 4:51 remaining.
Again, Kentucky couldn't move, though this time the Cats tried Ray McLaurin, instead of Williams, in the backfield. On third-and-15 from his 28, Haskins was hit from behind and fumbled. State recovered. Hazelwood kicked a 27-yard field goal and Sherrill's team had its third victory of the season.
"Obviously we moved the ball very well in the first half," Curry said. "Then in the second half we simply did not stop them, and if we did then we didn't move the ball consistently ourselves."
Consequently, Kentucky lost its fifth game of the season, severely limiting its chances at post-season play. The Cats must sweep Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and sixth-ranked Tennessee to qualify for consideration.
"It's very frustrating because we knew we'd have to get these two wins to put ourselves in position for the post-season," Schellenberger said.
"Yeah, it's frustrating," Haskins said, "because we're working hard and then we don't execute the way we should. We're losing games now that we should be winning."
"We've just got to come out fighting," Williams said. "Not just fighting, but we have to win."