Date published: Sunday, November 02, 2003
The Kentucky football team seemed ready to fight all night against Arkansas, and for a while it seemed like the Cats would do just that.
The two teams exchanged blows for a record-tying seven overtimes, but in the end, the gallant but exhausted Cats ran out of magic.DeCori Birmingham scored on a 25-yard run in the seventh overtime, and the Arkansas defense stopped UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen on a fourth-down run as the Hogs outlasted UK 71-63.
The teams jousted for nearly five hours, combining for an NCAA-record 134 points and 1,111 yards of total offense. The Cats and Hogs both had numerous chances to deliver a knockout blow, but it wasn't until overtime No. 7 that the game was finally decided.
Once again, UK overcame a slow start, rallying from a 21-7 halftime deficit to tie the game at 24 on Chris Bernard's 13-yard touchdown reception with 1:38 left in regulation.
But, in the end, it was the Hogs, who beat Ole Miss in the only other seven-overtime game (in 2001), who were left standing. It was UK's first overtime game since a 40-34 win over Alabama in 1997.
Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks applauded his team's effort but was left to lament yet another close defeat.
"You either win or you lose," he said. "How you do it doesn't make any difference. It's still an `L.' "
Birmingham, the Razorbacks' third-string tailback who was forced into the lineup because of injuries, broke free for a 25-yard score on Arkansas' second play of the seventh overtime. Quarterback Matt Jones then found 6-foot-5, 320-pound tight end Jason Peters for the two-point conversion to give the Hogs an eight-point lead.
Kentucky responded by driving to the 5-yard line, and on fourth-and-3 from the 5, Lorenzen lined up in the shotgun. He tried to run for the first down but was stopped a yard short, and fumbled trying to extend the ball to pick up the extra yard. An Arkansas defender fell on the ball to end the game.
"I knew I was a yard and a half short," Lorenzen said of the final play. "I had to reach out. It was going to be short anyway."
Lorenzen called the game "the most emotional roller coaster I've ever been on in my life."
UK (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) must now win two of its final three games to qualify for a bowl. The Cats will face Vanderbilt Nov. 15 after a much-needed bye week.
"We've dug ourselves a big hole," Brooks said.
After UK sent the game into overtime, the game basically came down to a duel between Lorenzen and Jones.
Jones, who started the game at receiver and didn't take over at quarterback until the second quarter, passed for 260 yards and three TDs and ran for 112 yards and a score.
He threw a touchdown pass to Peters to force a third overtime. In the fourth overtime, he scored on a 3-yard run and completed a 2-yard conversion pass to fullback Mark Pierce to keep the Hogs alive.
Lorenzen's 2-yard TD run tied the game at 55 in the fifth overtime, and he added another 1-yard score and two-point conversion pass that gave UK a 63-55 lead in the sixth overtime.
A Jones two-point conversion pass to George Wilson forced a sixth OT. Wilson, a Paducah Tilghman graduate, finished with nine catches for 172 yards and a touchdown.
"It was a gutsy, tough performance by Jared," Brooks said. "He made a whole lot of huge plays. He was something else, as was Jones. It was two quarterbacks making plays to keep their team alive."
Kentucky continued to follow its season-long blueprint of getting off to slow offensive starts. UK's only points of the first two periods came via a 6-yard blocked punt return by Andrew Hopewell with 10 seconds left in the first quarter to tie the game at 7.
But Jones came in and threw a 26-yard TD pass to Richard Smith that gave Arkansas a 14-7 lead. The Hogs then worked a little blocked-punt magic of their own when Tom Crowder smothered Anthony Thornton's attempt deep in UK territory and fell on the ball in the end zone to make it 21-7 with 6:45 left in the first half.
The Wildcats began their comeback late in the third quarter. Lorenzen found Alexis Bwenge in the right flat, and the sophomore tailback turned the play into a 51-yard touchdown by avoiding four would-be tacklers with a pair of nifty moves.
Arkansas mistakes kept the Wildcats in the game down the stretch. Nursing a seven-point lead, the Hogs fumbled twice in Kentucky territory in the final period.
UK defensive end Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns knocked the ball loose from Cedric Cobbs on Arkansas' first possession after Bwenge's TD, and Deion Holts fell on it at the UK 22.
Kentucky couldn't do anything with that possession, but Arkansas gave the Cats another chance when Steven Harris fumbled an option pitch from Jones at the Wildcat 33.
That set up a 34-yard Taylor Begley field goal that brought UK to within 21-17 with 7:11 remaining.
Chris Balseiro tacked on a 37-yard field goal to give the Hogs a 24-17 advantage with 3:11 left before UK finally tied the game.
"It was the same scenario," Brooks said. "We go into the half down, and we came back and played better in the second half."