Date story was published: Sunday, October 19, 1986
Kentucky came within inches of beating 12th-ranked Louisiana State last night at Commonwealth Stadium.
But unlike in horseshoes and hand grenades, close doesn't count in the Southeastern Conference.
LSU, which beat a gallant Kentucky team 25-16, had its victory fueled by the following:
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* A high snap that stretched UK's 5-foot-10 punter, Jeff Nelson, into an ill-advised decision to run rather than kick.
* Back-to-back "touch" passes that allowed the Tigers to capitalize on Nelson's mistake.
* A fourth-and-inches placement that retained possession for its clinching touchdown.
That score, which padded an 18-16 LSU lead, didn't come until three minutes remained. Only then could 57,201 fans be sure LSU would retain a share of the league lead at 3-0 (4-1 overall).
It was a short-handed Kentucky that fell short for a second straight week.
The Wildcats, now 3-2-1 overall and 0-2 in the SEC, played without Mark Higgs. Coach Jerry Claiborne said Higgs missed too much practice last week because of a sprained ankle.
UK's leading rusher, Ivy Joe Hunter, lost 4 yards on his only carry. Hunter missed practice because of a sore back, the coach said.
Quarterback Bill Ransdell fainted at halftime and needed the third quarter to regain his senses.
Those missing in action only heightened the sense of "what if" that engulfed what both teams called a "strange" game.
If Kentucky could have taken away the final 71 seconds of the first half, the Wildcats could have been leading at halftime.
LSU scored twice in that time, once with the help of Nelson, to take a 12-7 lead into the locker room.
UK was nursing a 7-0 lead, an advantage built on a fumble recovery, when the game turned.
After a 26-yard punt by Jay Tesar, who subbed once for Nelson, LSU needed just 51 yards to score.
Quarterback Tom Hodson, who suffered a concussion and needed five stitches in his mouth after a hit on the game's first series, connected on a 27-yard pass to Wendell Davis, the SEC's leading receiver, to spark the drive.
Hodson found fullback Garland Jean Batiste behind defensive end Guy Neal for a 10-yard touchdown. Batiste said he dedicated the game to his grandmother, Genevive Mouton of Parks, La., who died Friday.
When Ron Lewis hooked the extra-point kick wide left, his first miss after making all of his previous 46 collegiate attempts, UK still led 7-6 with 1:11 remaining.
That slim margin evaporated when Nelson tried to run out of punt formation.
Nelson, who ran and passed for first downs out of punt formation in UK's 32-0 victory over Southern Mississippi earlier this season, took off after having to leap for the snap.
The decision was questionable because LSU did not have much of a rush on.
"I didn't look up," Nelson said. "I just assumed it was there. They'd been coming hard all night."
After a scramble to the right and then back to the left, Nelson was tackled at the UK 39-yard line, 13 yards short of the first down, with 42 seconds remaining.
Nelson said he thought about kicking the ball on the run, "but I was running so fast to my left I didn't think I could get it off.
"I just remembered Coach Claiborne said not to throw it. I kept looking for Ron Mack."
Mack said he remembered he needed to be behind the line of scrimmage to catch a legal pass and tried to get in proper position. "Evidently, he (Nelson) didn't see me," Mack said.
Hodson immediately hit Davis with a floating 22-yard pass between two UK defenders. Davis held on despite being somersaulted by David Johnson's hit.
"All I know is I turned around and saw him in the air," Johnson said. "I thought, there's no way he can hold onto the ball."
Hodson hit Davis with an identical pass on the next play. Davis was tackled at the one.
"Supposedly, they're playing into our hands with those passes," Mack said. "It's into double coverage."
"Hodson just did a helluva job," Johnson said. "It was perfect timing."
And perfect accuracy, Claiborne said.
"Six inches shorter, we knock it down," the UK coach said. "Six inches longer, we knock it down. You've got to give credit where credit's due."
Freshman Harvey Williams dived over the top for the go-ahead touchdown with 11 seconds remaining.
The Cats' only first-half touchdown drive was set up when LSU's Steve Rehage fumbled a punt. Mark Wheeler recovered at the LSU 33.
A 21-yard screen pass to Marc Logan took Kentucky to the 12 and led to Ransdell's 4-yard touchdown run.
Backup Kevin Dooley took over when Ransdell blacked out in the locker room at halftime.
Dooley, who couldn't generate any offense in UK's 10-0 loss at LSU last season, made amends.
On the Wildcats' first possession of the second half, Dooley directed UK 81 yards for a touchdown. He completed four passes on the drive, a 19-yarder to Eric Pitts putting the ball at the LSU 14.
On fourth-and-one at the five, Logan ran around left end for a touchdown that gave Kentucky a 13-12 lead.
LSU needed less than four minutes to take back the lead. The Tigers went 66 yards in eight plays. Hodson's passing keyed the drive. He hit Williams for 15 yards on a third-and-six play. Rogie Magee took a short pass away from Johnson and spun past Ron Robinson en route to a 36-yard run to the 11.
Two plays later, Hodson hit tight end Brian Kinchen with an 11-yard touchdown pass. Johnson intercepted the two-point conversion pass to keep LSU's lead at 18-13.
Afterward, a still-groggy Hodson could not remember the touchdown.
UK narrowly avoided what might have been a clinching touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
A 33-yard pass to Sam Martin gave LSU a first-and-goal at the UK seven on the first play of the final quarter.
But after an incompletion, Williams showed he was a freshman. He started left, then went wide right, giving up ground as he searched for an opening.
Finally, Williams lateraled to Hodson, who was dropped at the 19.
"I just optioned off to Tommy," Williams said innocently. "I threw a block and hoped he'd run for a touchdown."
Said Ed Zaunbrecher, LSU's offensive coordinator: "If I had a rifle, we might have one less tailback."
One play after Williams' lateral, Lewis missed a 32-yard field goal to the right.
Ransdell returned to almost single-handedly bring UK within two points.
"We tried Kevin (Dooley) two more series, but we didn't move at all," Claiborne said of the switch to Ransdell. "We thought we might have a hot hand."
Ransdell did it all in pushing UK to a fourth-quarter field goal that made it 18-16.
He threw 17 yards to Pitts on a third-and-10.
He scrambled 14 yards for another first down.
Finally, he was credited with catching his own pass when a throw rebounded off LSU lineman Darren Malbrough. The pass was good for 8 yards and Joe Worley needed them all when his 49-yard field goal barely went over the cross bar. The field goal cut LSU's lead to 18-16 with 9:01 remaining.
LSU dashed Kentucky's last hopes with a 75-yard, 12-play march that ate up six minutes.
A leap by Williams on fourth-and-inches at the UK 36-yard line gave LSU what Claiborne called "a questionable" first down that kept the drive going.
Asked about the play, defensive guard Vic Adams said: "Oh you mean when we stopped them and they gave it to them on the spot. The ref came up and spotted the ball a foot and a half further than he should have."
Freshman Eddie Fuller ran 16 yards on a draw play for the clinching touchdown with three minutes remaining.