Date story was published: Friday, November 05, 1999
STARKVILLE, Miss. - Fitting that this was just down the road from Tupelo, birthplace of a certain Elvis. For Kentucky, last night was heartbreak hotel.
Scott Westerfield booted a 45-yard field goal with five seconds remaining last night to keep No. 8 Mississippi State undefeated and administer a wrenching 23-22 defeat to visiting Kentucky at a raucous Scott Field before a national TV audience.
Down by two points, Mississippi State took over at its own 20-yard line with 1:30 remaining after a punt by UK's Andy Smith bounced into the end zone for a touchback.
Mississippi State backup quarterback Matt Wyatt, subbing for injured starter Wayne Madkin, calmly completed six passes to move the Bulldogs into position for Westerfield's winning kick.
Westerfield had missed a 46-yard field goal with 5:43 left that would have put Mississippi State ahead. This time, however, the junior connected.
"It was silent, dead silent," UK safety Anthony Wajda said of the Cats' locker room afterward. "It was eerie in there."
The mood wasn't helped by the play that set up the winning field goal. On a second-and-11 from the UK 25, Wyatt hit wideout Matt Butler on a short toss to the left sideline. Seeing that he was about to be tackled in-bounds with his team out of timeouts, Butler tossed the ball out of bounds, stopping the clock with 22 seconds.
The officials ruled the play an illegal forward pass in an effort to stop the clock, penalizing Mississippi State back to the 28. The clock started again as the Bulldogs ran onto the field to set up for the field goal.
"It was a guy with no timeouts throwing the ball out of bounds to stop the clock," UK Coach Hal Mumme said .
"I've never seen that before; I don't know what the rule is," Wajda said. "They ought to change the rule."
Since it was third down after the catch, Mississippi State could have spiked the ball to stop the clock and set up the field goal. Still, the confusion at the end didn't help.
"The (officials) talking for three or four minutes really worked to their advantage," Wajda said.
It was the third straight game in which Mississippi State rallied from behind to win. Jackie Sherrill's team overcame a 16-0 deficit to beat Auburn 18-16 . It trailed LSU 10-0 last week before scoring late to beat the Tigers 17-16 . Last night's win improved the Bulldogs to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
"Every week I keep saying my heart can't take much more," Sherrill said. "But as long as we keep winning, my heart keeps pumping."
Kentucky dropped to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the league.
Before Mississippi State's final heroics, UK linebacker Jeff Snedegar appeared to have made the play of the day on an earlier fourth-quarter drive. The senior sacked Wyatt on a third-and-6 from the Kentucky 22 for a loss of 7.
That pushed Westerfield back to a 46-yard field-goal attempt and the junior missed it wide left, which preserved UK's 22-20 lead.
Kentucky then picked up a pair of first downs, moving to the Mississippi State 35 before being forced to punt.
"I wish we had punted the ball a little deeper and backed them up," Mumme said. "But you've got to take your hat off to Mississippi State. They're a great football team. They did what they had to to win."
"We were trying to press them right at first and not let them have any yardage," defensive coordinator Mike Major said. "They put their best receiver out there and he just beat us on an up route."
That was Kelvin Love, picking up 25 yards to the Mississippi State 40-yard line. On the next play, Wyatt hit running back Justin Griffith for 6 yards to the 46.
UK was then called for pass interference - Jeremy Bowie on Love - moving the ball to the UK 41. Another 6-yard pass to Griffith (after which State used its final timeout at the :42 mark) then an 11-yard pass to Love pushed it to the Kentucky 24. Wyatt then lost a yard on a scramble, putting it at the 25 with 30 seconds remaining.
Next came the controversial pass to Butler, setting up the winning field goal.
"Those first couple of passes hurt us," Wajda said. "It let them get some momentum on us."
"After that, I thought we played pretty well," Major said. "It was just they made a big play."
Until then, Kentucky appeared to be on its way to its first win over a top-10 team since beating fourth-ranked Penn State in 1977.
With scoring drives of 24, 1 and 38 yards, UK led 19-14 at the half.
Linebacker Marlon McCree recovered a Madkin fumble at the MSU 24-yard line. Six plays later, Dusty Bonner hit Kendrick Shanklin with a 4-yard touchdown pass. Marc Samuel's extra point was blocked, leaving MSU with a 7-6 lead.
On the Bulldogs' next possession, UK's Dennis Johnson blocked the punt of Jeff Walker. The Bulldog punter booted the loose football out of the end zone for an apparent safety. But his kick was illegal, and Kentucky was given the ball at the 1-yard line.
On UK's second snap, quarterback Dusty Bonner sneaked it in, giving Kentucky its first lead. A two-point conversion pass from Bonner to James Whalen fell incomplete.
UK's next break came on another MSU punt. This time Walker's kick cleared the line of scrimmage, but bounced backward, going just 27 yards, giving the Cats possession at the Mississippi State 38-yard line. On the second snap, Bonner burned a MSU blitz by hitting Whalen for 25 yards to the 6-yard line. Anthony White did the honors from there. Samuel's extra point made it 19-7 Kentucky with 13:21 left in the second quarter.
Mississippi State answered on the following possession, aided by a UK face-mask penalty on the kickoff. That started the Bulldogs at their own 49. Five plays later, they were in the end zone.
The big play came on a third-and-18 from the UK 45-yard line. Madkin hit Love just beyond Kenneth Grant's blanket coverage for a 41-yard gain to the 4.
Next came Cats confusion. The defense was penalized for having 12 men on the field. On the next play, they had 10. And on the next play, with 11 UK defenders, Justin Griffith scored from a yard out, cutting the lead to 19-14 with 10:07 left before the half.
It stayed that way through the half. Mississippi State outgained UK 188-53 in the first half, but the Bulldogs were hurt by 11 penalties for 74 yards. Kentucky had minus-4 yards rushing on 17 first-half attempts.
On Kentucky's first possession of the second half, the Cats drove 50 yards in nine plays for a 39-yard Marc Samuel field goal. The kick made it 22-14 with 10:04 left in the third quarter.
Mississippi State pulled to within 22-20 thanks in part to a pair of UK penalties. On a third-and-10 from the UK 46, the Cats were called for defensive holding. On the next play, Snedegar was flagged for a late hit when he threw Dontae Walker down out of bounds. Four plays later, Walker scored on a 6-yard run.
The two-point conversion pass failed, but the Bulldogs were within two points with 4:45 left in the third.
UK free safety Willie Gary injured his ankle and was taken to the locker room in the second quarter He did not return.
* UK receiver Vincent Harrison pulled a hamstring in the end zone in the third quarter while running a post pattern. He did not return.
* Samuel's 39-yard field goal improved the sophomore to 11-for-12 on attempts inside 40 yards.
* Whalen set a national record for receptions in a season by a tight end with 74. He passed Dennis Smith of Utah, who had 73 in 1989.