Date story was published||| Sunday, October 12, 1997
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The afterglow lasted six intoxicating days and sevenminutes and 16 seconds into the first quarter yesterday when Craig Yeastfielded a South Carolina punt and burst up the middle 85 yards for atouchdown.
Kentucky's second touchdown.
In the first 7:16.
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"We had a chance to put them away early," said Yeast afterward, shaking hishead at opportunity and a game lost. "But then they just seized the momentum."
Or did momentum seize Kentucky?
Either way the end result was the same. The celebrated team with the hotquarterback and the hot coach and no goal posts, ran into what Hal Mumme hadcalled the wounded rattlesnake that was the South Carolina Gamecocks.
"And they bit us," said Mumme yesterday. "They bit us a couple of times."
Indeed, with Anthony Wright throwing for three touchdowns and safety ArturoFreeman returning an interception for another score, struggling South Carolinaovercame an early two-touchdown deficit and knocked off surging Kentucky 38-24at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Wright, a junior quarterback from Vanceboro, N.C., ran for 63 yards andthrew for 223 more, including a 12-yard TD throw to Kerry Hood that caught theCats at 14-14 midway through period two.
Then cornerback Kevin Brooks deflected a Tim Couch pass off of Freeman, ajunior free safety, to send the ball ricocheting skyward. Freeman caught it ,wheeled, broke a Lance Mickelsen tackle, and sprinted 49 yards down thesideline to make it 21-14.
In the second half, Carolina's defense twice stopped Kentucky inside the10-yard line - allowing a field goal the first trip; blocking a field goal thesecond time - and Wright hit redshirt freshman Jermale Kelly with a pair of26-yard scoring passes.
Thus the Gamecocks celebrated homecoming by making each team 3-3 overalland 1-3 in the SEC.
"We needed that victory, no question about it," said Coach Brad Scott, whohad been under fire. "I think we played to the level we have been expecting toplay."
Kentucky got its big victory last week, the not-to-be-forgotten firstvictory over Alabama in 75 years. Mumme said the euphoria would not be aproblem. His team would get back to business. But there were some ominoussigns.
The bandwagoneers popped out of the woodwork, risking torn rotator cuffswith their constant pats on the back. One well-meaning couple told Mummeyesterday that they had not seen the Cats play, but after last week's win haddecided to drive from Columbus, Ohio, to Columbia, S.C., to join in the fun.
And while Mumme's first edition is undoubtedly much improved and moredangerous (especially on offense) than a year ago, it is not talented enough(especially on defense) to win on an off day. Not in the SEC.
"We came down here with as much momentum as anyone in the country," saiddefensive tackle Mark Jacobs. "I guess we thought we could just show up andwe'd get respect, but that's not how it is."
"I know our play was less than inspired in terms of the four full quartersof play that we had last week," Mumme said. "But there's a whole bunch ofintangibles there. You play in front of a home crowd last week that helpsinspire you. Here you play in hostile territory with 80,000 screaming againstyou. I don't want to lay it on the kids because I don't think it was a matterof them overcelebrating. I just think we didn't seize the momentum when we hadthe chance."
South Carolina snatched it, the game's true turnaround play probably beingFreeman's snatch of the deflected Couch throw.
"I said, 'Oh Lord, let me catch it,'" Freeman said. "When I caught it andstarted running and saw people blocking I thought 'We ain't never practicedthis.'"
Plus Carolina discovered an offensive identity, using two tight ends andrunning sophomore Boo Williams (93 yards, 24 carries) at the Cats, much asMississippi State did Sept. 6. Then on passing downs, Scott spread the fieldwith four wideouts as Wright threw underneath for key gains .
"You could see on film what good athletes they had," said UK defensivecoordinator Mike Major. "We did a better job the second half going at anglesinstead of a direct charge, but they were hard to stop."
Kentucky only stopped at the goal line. Down 24-21, the Cats marched fromthe 44 to a first-and-goal at the USC 5-yard line. There the drive halted andSeth Hanson kicked a 23-yard field goal and a 24-24 tie.
After Carolina went ahead again, the Cats went from their own 35 to afirst-and-goal at the USC 3-yard line. White got one yard up the middle onfirst down. Lance Mickelsen nearly made an acrobatic grab on second downbefore the ball fell incomplete. On third down, Couch missed Yeast at the goalline.
"It was my fault on the goal line," Couch said. "I missed Craig there wherewe kind of had a mix-up. I just didn't execute."
"I wasn't expecting him to (throw) as quick as he did," Yeast said. "It wasmy fault."
Fourth-and-goal at the two with 6:13 left, Mumme opted for the three. "Itwas a tough decision," he said. "I thought if we could get the three ourdefense would rise up."
The Cats got zero. Lee Wiggins broke through and blocked Hanson's 20-yardchip shot. The hosts promptly marched 84 yards for the put-away score.
"My hat's off to South Carolina," Mumme said. "They just gave an inspiredeffort."
Now it is the rattlesnake's turn to handle momentum.
Said Wright, with an unintended double meaning: "You can't win one game andget all hysterical."