Date story was published: Sunday, September 14, 1986
The question was whether a tie was disappointing.
The answer, Jerry Claiborne thought, was obvious.
"That's a real question," an exasperated Kentucky coach said yesterday after the Wildcats opened 1986 by tying Rutgers 16-16. "Holy cow. Yes, I'm disappointed. If you were coaching a football team that fumbled twice inside the 5-yard line, would you be disappointed?"
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Call it first-game jitters -- Claiborne's phrase was "lack of concentration" -- but the Wildcats were also plagued by penalties (10 for 81 yards) and indecision (two timeouts wasted before they could be used in a desperate drive in the final two minutes). Unflappable Bill Ransdell even threw what was ruled an interception, snapping his school-record streak of 105 passes without one being picked off.
"I was wondering, 'What's wrong? " said tailback Mark Higgs, who had one of the costly first-half fumbles. "Ivy Joe (Hunter, who had the other) never fumbles. Then I did."
Rutgers, the team that recovered those fumbles, wasn't spared disappointment. The Scarlet Knights made enough mistakes of their own to be denied victory. Now 1-0-1, Rutgers had only to think back to last season to remember when it was in Kentucky's shoes. Rutgers' comeback last September salvaged a 28-28 tie at Florida.
"I know how Florida felt, now," cornerback Steve Twamley said. "It's a sick feeling."
Making matters worse, the Rutgers team then had to sit and wait at Blue Grass Airport for its chartered plane to arrive from Boston. The school forgot to order a plane for its return trip to New Jersey.
It was that kind of day.
Both teams found consolation in never-say-die attitudes. Each side kicked two field goals in the final eight minutes.
The last was Joe Worley's 32-yarder with one second remaining that gave Kentucky a tie. It was Worley's third field goal in four attempts and -- heightening the suspense -- came from about the same spot where he had missed.
"The miss wasn't on my mind," Worley said. "I knew what I had done wrong."
Worley's kick for a tie capped a UK drive that started at the Cats' 18-yard line after Rutgers had taken a 16-13 lead with 2:18 remaining.
Rutgers never trailed. Its final lead came courtesy of a curious call on a fumble. UK wide receiver Tim Jones fumbled at his own 23-yard line. Even though Wildcat center Ken Lange came away from a scramble with the ball, it was ruled Rutgers' possession with three minutes remaining.
"The refs made a premature call," Lange said. "A Rutgers player fell on it, but I saw it come loose. He never had possession. I thought for sure it was our ball."
Three plays later, Doug Giesler kicked a 37-yard field goal to give Rutgers its 16-13 lead.
With only one timeout remaining, UK marched from its own 18 to the Rutgers 16.
Ransdell, whose 18 completions allowed him to match Randy Jenkins' career record of 645, hit three passes on the drive. Eric Pitts' diving catch on the third was good for 20 yards and set up UK at the Rutgers 31 with 47 seconds left.
Two runs by Higgs took the ball to the 16 but ate up 36 seconds before Ransdell threw away a pass to stop the clock with 11 ticks remaining.
Ransdell looked left for Cornell Burbage with UK's one shot at a winning touchdown. Burbage was covered, however, so Ransdell threw for Jones on the right. The pass was just off the diving Jones' fingers.
Worley came on for the tying field goal.
"The best thing about it was we kept fighting back," Claiborne said. "I'll take the mistakes when we've got good effort. We came back strong."
Kentucky could have been forgiven for folding its emotional tents more than once. The first quarter alone had several chilling moments. In cold numbers, Rutgers amassed 133 total yards in the quarter and controlled the ball for all but two minutes. UK had one yard and lost Ransdell - for one series - with a bruised left shoulder.
The scoreboard also reflected the Wildcats' slow start. UK fell behind 10-0 in the first 18 minutes.
Rutgers ruled early by running into the middle of UK's defensive line and throwing dump passes to its backs in the flank.
"They ran off our stunts," UK defensive guard Tom Wilkins said. "They were looking to where we were shifting and cutting if off."
In the second half, UK switched to a five-man line with a nose guard over the center and held the Scarlet Knights to the two late field goals.
Two UK mistakes helped Rutgers take the opening kickoff 70 yards. After a second-and-six pass from the UK 9-yard line fell incomplete, the Cats accepted an ineligible-receiver penalty against Rutgers.
Instead of Rutgers losing a down as well as yardage, as UK thought, the Scarlet Knights were merely pushed back 5 yards.
"I didn't know what to do," said Tom Wilkins, the defensive captain, who must make the decision to accept or deny a penalty. "I was still trying to look for the coaches on the sidelines and heard the guys yelling, 'Take it, take it.' "
The extra down proved doubly costly. On what would have been fourth down, Rutgers quarterback Joe Gagliardi was roughed by UK's Oliver Barnett.
The personal-foul penalty gave Rutgers a first down at the 5. After a run lost 2 yards, Gagliardi hit Greg Alvord with a 7-yard touchdown pass to put Rutgers ahead 7-0 with 7:13 remaining.
"He (Gagliardi) was getting ready to throw and I jumped to try to block it," said Barnett, a redshirt freshman. "When I came down I hit him, but I was trying to stop myself. It wasn't intentional."
The opening drive consumed more than seven minutes.
UK's first possession lasted three plays. The third was Ransdell's interception. More precisely, Rutgers cornerback Jean Austin took the ball from Eric Pitts.
"They called that an interception?" Pitts asked. "I hadn't tucked it away yet and I was turning around when he reached in for it before I could make a move."
Rutgers used runs up the middle and short passes in a 14-play drive that extended the lead to 10-0 when Giesler hit a 49-yard field goal.
UK finally got its offense going in the second quarter, but had no points to show for it. Fueled by its initial first down - with 10:58 remaining in the half - the Cats drove 65 yards to the Rutgers 5. The running of Higgs, Hunter and Marc Logan accounted for 47 of the yards.
But Hunter fumbled on a third down from the 5. Rutgers linebacker Tyronne Stowe recovered.
"I was really trying to give extra effort," Hunter said, "and I was hit just in the right place."
After a Rutgers drive was halted by a holding penalty, UK again ran to the doorstep. This time Higgs took a pitchout and fumbled on a first-and-goal from the 5 when hit by safety Luis Moro.
Kentucky finally cut into Rutgers' lead with its first possession of the second half, but only after a fumbled handoff was recovered by Hunter at the Rutgers 15. Two plays later, Logan took a draw play 15 yards for a touchdown.
UK tied it at 10-10 when Worley kicked a 20-yard field goal with 1:35 remaining in the third quarter. Hunter's 38-yard run with a pitchout set up the three-pointer.
Hunter was tackled at the Rutgers 4. Three runs later - two by Higgs, one by Logan - the Cats settled for Worley.
When Ron Mack's hit caused Rutgers to fumble the ensuing kickoff at its own 18, Kentucky seemed poised to take the lead.
It didn't happen. After two runs by Higgs netted 2 yards, the Wildcats called time. The result was a semi-screen to Higgs that never unfolded. The little tailback was dropped at the 14.
Worse, Worley hooked a 31-yard field-goal try from the right hash mark to the left of the goal posts.
"I didn't keep my eye on the ball," Worley said. "I kind of jerked and lifted my leg and come high on the ball."
Rutgers regained the lead with 7:48 remaining when Giesler booted a 43- yard field goal.
Worley tied it exactly four minutes later but not before the kind of perils-of-Pauline action that typified opening day.
Curious play selection, a missed passing opportunity and a near interception stalled yet another UK effort inside the Rutgers 10.
On first down, UK called a sweep to Andy Murray, its chief inside power runner. He lost a yard.
On second down from the Rutgers 9, Ransdell rolled out but could not find Burbage open in the back of the end zone. Ransdell was dropped at the 8.
After UK spent its second timeout with 3:58 remaining, Ransdell threw for Higgs at the goal line. A diving Moro nearly intercepted. "I should have had it," Moro said. "It was right in my hands. Right in my hands."
UK settled for a 13-13 tie with Worley's 25-yard field goal.
Kentucky had to do the same thing again when it ran out of time at game's end.
"I thought back to the Florida game and thought, 'Oh no, not another tie,' " Rutgers center Mike Dillon said. "This isn't a loss, but it feels like one."