Story published: Sunday, November 05, 2006
There wasn't much about yesterday afternoon that was typical Kentucky football.
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When tradition-rich Georgia punched them in the mouth, the historically meek Wildcats punched them right back.
When the Bulldogs appeared to push the Cats off a cliff, UK hung on for dear life and pulled itself back to safety.And most importantly, and perhaps most atypical of Wildcat football, when it became winning time, Kentucky made winning football plays.
Kentucky marched on an 11-play, 69-yard drive for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:21 remaining and then got a game-clinching interception from Trevard Lindley to post a historic 24-20 win over Georgia.
It was UK's first win over Georgia since 1996 and sent the Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 62,120 into a post-game, goal post-tearing frenzy.
Kentucky (5-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) is now one win away from qualifying for its first bowl game since 1999. And while it gave Coach Rich Brooks his first big win in his four years in Lexington, Brooks didn't put too much emphasis on any personal ramifications.
"I can't tell you how happy I am for these players, particularly the seniors and what they've been through," he said. "A win like this against a team Kentucky hasn't beaten in years is a signature win for them, and they'll remember it for a lot of years. We're 5-4 and 3-3 in the SEC East, and we're ahead of Georgia in the standings. It's a long time since Kentucky's been in that position."
For a while, it looked as if it would be the same old story for UK -- compete hard and play well enough to win, only to see mistakes and missed opportunities let a big-name opponent off the hook.
Trailing 14-10 in the second quarter, UK linebacker Johnny Williams intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass deep in Georgia territory, setting the Cats up first-and-goal from the 2.
But quarterback Andre Woodson's third-down pass was picked off at the Bulldogs' 1.
The Wildcats also had the ball twice inside the Georgia 25-yard line in the third quarter but couldn't produce any points. And they botched a fake-field-goal attempt when kicker Lones Seiber bobbled a hand-off from holder Kris Kessler.
"It was frustrating," UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said. "But I never sensed that we got down on ourselves."
Kentucky finally took the lead with 8:29 remaining when Woodson scrambled, used a quick ball-fake to throw Georgia defensive end Quentin Moses off balance, and found Keenan Burton for a 10-yard score to put UK up 17-14. Burton finished with seven catches for 73 yards and two TDs.
Georgia answered with a nine-play, 83-yard drive that resulted in a 3-yard Danny Ware scoring run to make it 20-17 Bulldogs with 4:37 left. Andy Bailey's extra-point kick was blocked.
Instead of preparing themselves for another heartbreaking near-miss, the UK players said they're mindset remained on course: get the win at any cost.
"I told everybody on the sideline that there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to score," said sophomore receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. "And when you looked in everybody's eyes, you could tell we were determined to get it in the end zone."
Brooks called on Tony Dixon, who was limited in practice this week with a hamstring injury and had spent most of the game on the bench, for the final drive.
Dixon started the drive off by sandwiching a pair of 6-yard catches around a 10-yard reception by tight end Jacob Tamme.
Then, on third-and-four from the Georgia 47, he took a draw off right tackle for 13 yards. He followed that with runs of 9 and 6 yards to set up UK first-and-10 at the Bulldog 19.
"We started getting some momentum, and momentum is a big part of it," Dixon said. "After we made a couple of plays, we knew that we were going to score."
Woodson then threw to David Jones for a 7-yard gain, and Alfonso Smith ran nine yards on a delay to the Georgia 4.
Two plays later, Dixon went off right guard for the 3-yard, go-ahead touchdown run. Dixon finished with 47 yards on eight carries, which complemented starter Smith's 76 yards on 19 carries.
"Tony Dixon came off hobbling all week long with his leg and ran his fanny off and got it into the end zone," Brooks said. "He did a great job of finding creases and holes and making plays."
Even Georgia's players sensed UK's desire.
"They converted the third-down plays, put the ball in the end zone, and just wanted it more," cornerback Paul Oliver said.
But the defense still had to come up with a game-saving stop, and defensive coordinator Mike Archer said he started preaching that to his unit even before UK took the lead.
"After (Georgia) went ahead, I told our guys, 'Hey, we're gonna score, and then we're gonna have to go back out there and make a stop," he said. "That's our job. If you don't like that, you don't need to be playing 'D'."
Georgia returned the kickoff 31 yards to its 37, and Stafford, a true freshman, completed an 11-yard pass to tight end Martrez Milner to get the Bulldogs near midfield.
But Stafford's pass for A.J. Bryant sailed over the receiver's head and into the arms of redshirt freshman Trevard Lindley, who immediately fell to the ground after making the diving catch. UK ran out the final 45 seconds, and the party was on.
Georgia, the defending SEC champ, fell to 6-4 and 3-4. Bulldogs Coach Mark Richt pointed at something that has been plaguing his team all year: turnovers. The Bulldogs gave it away four times yesterday, including three on interceptions by Stafford.
"Was that last year we won the SEC Championship?" Richt asked. "It seems so long ago. It's crazy, isn't it? Turnovers are a big thing. You just don't win many games when you lose the turnover battle. It doesn't matter who you play."
Brooks was proud of his team's newfound perseverance, something that was absent in all the near-misses.
"This was obviously a real good SEC football game, and for a change, we were the ones that answered the bell," Brooks said. "We overcame the problems and the mistakes that we made and made the plays we had to make to get the win.
"I think this win shows that we kept coming. We have come a long way this year, and for us to keep coming off the deck like we did this game, I don't think you could have scripted a better way for us to win. It shows that if you just keep coming, just keep trying, good things are likely to happen. And they did today."