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CATS OFFER HOPE, BUT LATE FUMBLE KILLS COMEBACK

Story published: Monday, September 05, 2005

If you're emotionally invested in Kentucky football, you probably left Commonwealth Stadium feeling a variety of ways yesterday.

On one hand, you probably had that same-old, same-old feeling after watching the Cats push another ranked opponent to the edge only to let them off the hook.

The fact that it was hated in-state rival Louisville didn't make it go down any easier.

But you also probably left with a feeling you haven't had in a while, a feeling that has seemed to be missing from the Wildcats' program since the beginning of the Rich Brooks era.

Hope.

UK showed plenty of fight in battling back from a 21-point halftime deficit before failing to capitalize on a couple of potential fourth-quarter opportunities -- including a drive to the 2-yard line before fumbling -- for a game-tying score. That allowed the 12th-ranked Cards to escape with a 31-24 win.

But just like against Florida two years ago and Tennessee last year, the Cats were forced to add another chapter to a long list of near misses.

Brooks, who's still looking for a signature win in his third year at UK, was asked if he'd leave this game encouraged or frustrated. He chose frustrated.

"It just makes me sick to my stomach that we're close to doing something that would have been very significant," he said. "We had our chances."

But the Cats also showed enough good to think that there might better things in store in 2005, something Louisville even recognized.

"Whoo, we were lucky to get out of here with a win," Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino said. "We didn't play as well as we wanted, but certainly you have to give Kentucky credit. They ran to the ball better, they tackled better. That's how a rivalry game is supposed to be."

In the first half, Kentucky looked like the same team that had dropped 17 of its previous 23 games. The offensive line broke down, special teams were a disaster, and quarterback Andre Woodson had two fumbles that led to Cards' touchdowns.

Louisville went into the locker room up 28-7 and could have been up 31-7 had Art Carmody not missed a 29-yard field goal right before halftime.

You figured being down 21 to a Louisville team that most likely wasn't interested in showing any mercy meant a pretty ugly final 30 minutes.

Brooks said he challenged his team at the half.

"Now we're going to find out what we're about," he said. "Do we roll over and play dead or do we go out and compete and try to make plays?"

The result was an entirely different Wildcats team in the final two quarters. Its offense was more crisp and cohesive, piling up 221 of its 325 total yards. It also tightened up defensively, holding Louisville to a field goal and 159 yards of second-half offense.

Louisville running back Michael Bush, who ran for 86 yards on 14 first-half attempts, carried 13 times in the second half for just 42 yards.

UK's first drive out of the break resulted in a 37-yard Taylor Begley field goal. Then, a 51-yard run by sophomore tailback Rafael Little set up a 21-yard TD pass from Woodson to Scott Mitchell, and suddenly the Cats were back in it, trailing just 28-17 with 6:01 left in the third.

Carmody put the Cards up by two touchdowns early in the fourth with a 19-yard field goal, but UK came right back with a seven-play, 75-yard drive resulting in a 15-yard scoring strike from Woodson to Jacob Tamme to cut it to 31-24 with 11:52 left.

That's when Kentucky's history appeared to catch up with it. The Cats had the ball twice inside Louisville territory in the final 10 minutes.

Woodson's fumbled snap led to a 12-yard loss and that killed the first drive. Tamme's block of a punt, though, gave Kentucky the ball back at the Louisville 33 with 7:21 left.

Woodson appeared headed for six points on a second-and-goal keeper from the U of L 7, but officials ruled that he fumbled the ball at the 2-yard line.

Cardinals linebacker Brandon Johnson fell on the ball near the right sideline at 6:21.

The Cats never got the ball again.

Woodson, who lost three fumbles, held his own in his matchup with U of L quarterback Brian Brohm, throwing for 278 yards and two touchdowns compared with 179 yards and no passing TDs for Brohm.

"If Andre runs to the corner and doesn't switch the ball, he goes into the end zone untouched no problem," Brooks said. "But he switched to the inside arm and challenged the guy instead of running it to the corner."

Now Kentucky will have to wait a little longer for that signature win, as it faces Idaho State next week and travels to Indiana before Florida comes to town on Sept. 24.

"That's the thing," senior strong safety Muhammad Abdullah said. "We never get that big win. I don't know when it's going to come, but it's going to come this year."

Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who terrorized the Cats with a school-record six sacks, concurred.

"Kentucky's a good team," he said. "I think they're going to shock a lot of people."

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