Date story was published: Sunday, September 28, 1986
The billing -- a battle of offenses -- was half right.
Yesterday's Kentucky-Cincinnati game was a battle.
However, it was the defenses, particularly the beleaguered Wildcat pass defenders, that accounted for much of the scoring in Kentucky's bruise-filled 37-20 victory at Riverfront Stadium.
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UK, which had been burned for 384 yards through the air in its first two games and yielded 303 yesterday, got revenge. Defensive back David Johnson and linebacker Chris Chenault returned interceptions for touchdowns as the Wildcats improved to 2-0-1.
In terms of putting points on the scoreboard, Cincinnati's defense managed only a questionable safety. But the Bearcats' hard hitting also delivered season-ending injuries to two Wildcats: heralded freshman running back Al Baker and tight end Matt Lucas.
Baker broke his right ankle late in the third quarter when he was stood up and then bent over backward on a tackle. Because of a medical loophole in the NCAA's redshirt guidelines, UK officials said they thought Baker would not have to lose a year of eligibility.
Frank Ham, an assistant athletic director and formerly the school's liaison with the NCAA, said last night he thought Baker fit the requirements for receiving a redshirt season because of injury. To qualify, Ham said, an athlete must suffer the injury in the first half of the season and must not have played in more than two games or 20 percent of the schedule, whichever is greater. Yesterday's game was Baker's second.
UK defensive tackle Jerry Reese benefited from the rule and was granted a redshirt season when he broke his ankle early in his freshman season. Reese had participated in games that fall.
Lucas, a fifth-year senior with a history of medical problems, tore two major ligaments in his right knee midway through the fourth period.
Both players were X-rayed last night and then admitted to Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington. Each will undergo surgery this morning, team physician Dr. Michael Ray said.
Ray said Baker would need a minimum of six weeks for his ankle bone to heal and then two weeks to a month to rehabilitate the joint. Such a timetable probably means Baker could not return this season, Ray said.
Lucas will not play again for Kentucky, the doctor said.
"That really hurts," UK coach Jerry Claiborne said of the injuries. "We can't afford to lose players like that every week. Baker was only going to get better and Lucas knew our offense so well."
In addition, UK safety Ron Robinson and special-teams player Steve Wroble suffered mild concussions.
"Our guys will be sore tomorrow," Claiborne said. "This was a real aggressive, tough football game.
"The score did not indicate how close the game was. Three big plays turned the momentum our way."
The initial "big play" came when Cincinnati's Steve Looney fumbled away the Wildcats' first punt. Johnson recovered for Kentucky at the UC 15-yard line.
Kentucky struck immediately as quarterback Bill Ransdell rolled right and hit tight end Joe Curry with a 15-yard touchdown pass.
However, Ransdell was the first to admit the pinpoint pass was the exception for him this day.
"I threw like ---------," said Ransdell, who completed 12 of 20 for just 105 yards.
To the delight of a UC record crowd of 36,233, neither the gloomy overcast and steady downpour at the game's beginning nor the seven-point deficit were long-lasting.
As if on cue, the rain stopped and the clouds parted just as Cincinnati tied it four plays later.
Danny McCoin threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to a shockingly wide-open Jason Stargel to knot the score with 8:20 remaining in the first quarter. It was the sixth time in their careers the two had collaborated on a scoring pass. It's hard to believe any of the other five came more easily.
Stargel had Johnson beaten so badly he was able to wait several seconds for McCoin's fluttering pass to come down. Although he had to wait for the ball, Stargel was still able to easily outrun Johnson and Robinson 35 yards to the end zone.
"That was my fault all the way," Johnson said. "I slipped in a puddle of water and couldn't get my footing. It wasn't his move or anything that got him so open."
Cincinnati, which fell to 2-2, took its only lead of the afternoon with a safety late in the second quarter.
UK was backed up near its goal line because Cornell Burbage decided to field a punt at the 5-yard line. Burbage was tackled at the 8.
On second down from the 11, Ransdell dropped back. Cincinnati defensive end Alex Gordon appeared to wrap his arms around Ransdell at the 3, but the whistle didn't blow until the UK quarterback fell in the end zone.
Cincinnati appeared headed for another score after receiving a shanked punt on the free kick.
The Bearcats moved 24 yards to reach the UK 33. On third down, McCoin scrambled to his left and threw into a crowd.
Chenault, who had lost his starting position to Jeff Kremer, came out of the pack with the ball and sprinted 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
"I saw the defensive linemen pressuring the quarterback and I knew from watching film he liked to drop off passes to the short men," Chenault said. "I stepped in front of my man (tailback Reggie Taylor) before he threw it and hoped he'd still throw it."
McCoin did, even though he said he saw Chenault made his move.
"I thought I could get it in there," McCoin said.
Defensive tackle John Shannon's block wiped out McCoin and Chenault ran untouched to the end zone. Once there, he slid on his backside to a stop.
"This is a baseball stadium," Chenault said, "so it shouldn't have looked that bad."
Kentucky, which failed on a two-point conversion run, stretched its 13-9 halftime lead with another interception.
Cincinnati had reached the Wildcat 41-yard line early in the third quarter when McCoin threw long. McCoin overthrew his intended receiver and Johnson, playing in a zone behind UK's man-to-man short yardage coverage, intercepted.
"Two of the worst passes I've thrown all year," McCoin said of his interceptions.
"I was standing on the hash mark and I think he believed I was going to move," Johnson said. "I was disguising the coverage."
Johnson took his interception 95 yards for a touchdown, weaving to the right to avoid an immediate tackle and then miraculously popping through a wave of Bearcats along the sideline in front of the UK bench. From there, Johnson had only to stay on his feet to score.
"My 40 time must have been about 6.1," Johnson said. "I was so tired. I was just about ready to go out-of-bounds. I thought there were too many guys coming. Then I saw a little hole."
Cincinnati would not quit. The Bearcats went 71 yards on their next possession. A 37-yard pass from McCoin to Stargel sparked the drive.
UC reached the Kentucky 2. But a busted play on second down forced McCoin to throw away a pass. On third down, UK defensive back Tony Mayes broke up a slant pattern to Joe Hice.
Cincinnati had to settle for a field goal and a 20-12 deficit.
UK pulled out of danger with its only long scoring drive of the day, a time-consuming 17-play, 71-yard drive for another touchdown.
Kentucky overcame two penalties on the drive and scored when backup fullback Andy Murray bulled over from the 1 on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Kentucky and Cincinnati added 17 points in the final four minutes to set the deceptively high final score.
The offensive totals were also misleading. UC had more first downs (21-19), almost three times as much yardage through the air (303-105) and more total yards (423-288).
Kentucky, however, had the big plays.