Date story was published: Sunday, November 10, 1996
Last time out, armed with emotion, and supplied with a healthy dose of sentiment for its ousted coach, Kentucky whipped up a rare victory over the visiting Bulldogs. Georgia was a heartstring win.
Yesterday was the same, only different. With the temperature in the mid-30s and the crowd in the mid-20s, with its sharp edge of momentum dulled by an open week, it was a bit of grit that sent Kentucky to a 24-21 win over Mississippi State's Bulldogs at Commonwealth Stadium.
"I think," said defensive end Chris Ward, "this may have been our best victory of the season."
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There have not been an overabundance of those, of course, but there is one more.
Billy Jack Haskins hit Norman Mason with a 24-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter for what turned out to be the winning score as the Cats captured their second straight, both coming since head coach Bill Curry learned he would not be retained after this season.
Iron man Derick Logan set a school freshman rushing record, gaining 186 yards on an exhausting 41 carries. Plus, the tough Texan found time to toss a neat little 55-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Craig Yeast two minutes before halftime.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, after allowing the visitors to reach the 32-yard line, the Cat defense rose up just in time to stop Mississippi State's final drive, then watched Brian Hazelwood's wind-aided 50-yard field goal attempt sail wide left with 1:26 remaining.
"I think this game showed the character of this team," Curry said.
And yet this was a bit different than the Cats' electric 24-17 triumph two weeks back, in which they showed their loyalty to Curry by stripping the Ks from the right side of their helmets and then shocking Georgia.
"At first I thought the two weeks was going to be really good, but we seemed to lose our concentration by the middle of the second week," Curry said. "I was very concerned that we weren't going to rise to the emotional level we needed to. And it didn't seem like we were flying around out there, but as the game wore on we saw more and more of that."
"We were just as emotional today," Haskins said. "We just got behind early, and it didn't show."
Buoyed by a 59-0 thumping of Northeast Louisiana, Jackie Sherrill's club got cracking early, forging a 14-3 lead six minutes into the second quarter.
Six minutes later, however, came the play of the day. All year the Cats have practiced the halfback option. Not once in a game, however, had they been able to actually get the pass airborne; execution breaking down miserably before the ball could be put in flight.
Not this time. First-and-10 from its own 45, offensive coordinator Elliot Uzelac called on Logan. Off tackle, right? Wrong.
"In junior varsity I played quarterback, so I can throw it pretty good," the true freshman said. "I wasn't really hoping it would be called, but if State's Tim Nelson hopes it is never called again. The so-called "Dog safety" bit hard on the run, letting Yeast fly free. "I just thought, 'Catch the ball, catch the ball,'" Yeast said.
"I didn't want to underthrow him and let the defense come back," Logan said. "I overthrew him a little, but Craig's so fast he ran it down."
Ran it into a 55-yard touchdown. "Biggest play of the game," Haskins said.
"I thought we controlled the game, and all of a sudden we let them back in," Sherrill said.
It was also UK's first passing touchdown since the season opener, and gave Logan one more scoring throw than Haskins. "Yeah," said the quarterback. "I know."
Not for long, though. First drive of the second half, the junior hit Norman Mason on a 7-yard slant pass for a 17-14 Kentucky lead. Then after State reclaimed the lead 21-17, Haskins found Mason again.
"He just got himself open today," Haskins, a Paducah Tilghman product, said of Mason, also of Paducah.
Especially on the final score, which capped a 70-yard drive. "It was four vertical, four wide receivers and I just happened to be the one open," said Mason, a junior transfer from Murray State. "It was kind of rough waiting on him to throw me the ball."
It has been very rough waiting for a winning streak, too. Yesterday improved Curry's club to 3-6 overall, 2-4 in the league. (State dropped to 3-5, 1-4.) Had they played this way in September rather than November, wonder what might have been?
"Right now we got two more games left to play," Haskins said. "And that's all we're thinking about."