Date published: Sunday, October 17, 2004
Not even five South Carolina turnovers and a fourth-string quarterback could add up to a Kentucky win last night.
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In what resembled a friendly game of pigskin hot potato, UK and South Carolina combined to give the ball away nine times at Commonwealth Stadium.UK, which had 16 turnovers coming into yesterday's game, actually won the turnover battle against the Gamecocks last night, as the Cats' four miscues were negated by five takeaways.
But it was the turnover Kentucky didn't get that proved to be its undoing.
With UK trying to protect a 7-6 lead late in the fourth quarter, Wildcat safety Mike Williams was in perfect position to pick off an errant pass by South Carolina quarterback Mike Rathe near the goal line, but the ball slipped right through his hands.
In typical Kentucky fashion, that play came back to haunt the Cats.
Rathe picked up a first down with a 16-yard completion to Noah Whiteside on the next play and hit Troy Williamson for a 19-yard TD pass with 1:28 remaining to allow the Gamecocks to escape with a 12-7 victory and drop UK to 1-5 on the season.
"Obviously this was a very, very tough loss," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "We made almost as many mistakes turning the ball over as we have in the last two weeks. The good news is that we took it away from them as many times. If we'd only done it one more time, it would have been a different outcome.
"It's a tough thing to have the game in your hands and have it fall out."
Williams' drop wasn't the only chance UK had to end that final drive. Sweet Pea Burns timed a quick out in the flat by Rathe the play before and would have gone for six the other way but couldn't quite bring the ball in.
South Carolina lost its starting quarterback Syvelle Newton to an ankle injury in the second quarter, and backup Blake Mitchell was ineffective, hitting on just two of his seven pass attempts with two interceptions. Dondrial Pinkins, who opened the year as South Carolina's starter, was injured and didn't even make the trip.
That forced Coach Lou Holtz to turn to Rathe, a little-used senior who had three career completions with two interceptions coming into the game.
On the game-winner, Rathe rolled to the right and fired a pass into the back of the end zone to a wide-open Williamson, who hauled it in and kept his feet in bounds to hush a crowd of 63,086.
"It was a great play by Michael," Holtz said. "I want to say this about Michael: He's hung around here and been positive and upbeat, and for him to step in there and do that was great for Michael Rathe."
UK had one final shot, but Shane Boyd threw three incompletions, and Scott Mitchell dropped a fourth-down pass at the Wildcat 20 with 59 seconds left.
"I was proud of this team for finding a way to win," Holtz said. "Not only did they find a way to win, they believed they would win."
The first half was basically a fumble-fest. South Carolina coughed it up on its first two possessions, but UK failed to capitalize as they went three-and-out and Taylor Begley missed on a 49-yard field-goal attempt.
South Carolina had a 6-0 lead on two Josh Brown field goals just as UK started kicking the ball around. Boyd lost fumbles on consecutive drives, and backup Andre Woodson lost one after getting sacked at the Gamecock 27.
Once UK decided to hold on to the ball, the Wildcats kept it for almost an entire quarter. Starting at its own 6-yard line with 6:26 left in the third, UK staged a scoring march that included an incredible 23 plays and covered 94 yards that ate up 11:54 off the clock. Alexis Bwenge capped the drive with a 2-yard run to give Kentucky a 7-6 lead with 9:52 remaining.
But like many previous Saturdays, that joy was eventually replaced by anguish.
"It's better than the loss last week, but a loss is a loss is a loss," Brooks said. "I was hoping that this would be a significant step forward, but we let it slip through our fingers like some games we had last year."