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KENTUCKY OVERCOMES ERRORS, RALLIES FOR 24-16 UPSET WIN

Date story was published: Sunday, October 15, 1995

They fumbled the football, and threw an interception, and lost their best player to injury, and threw another interception -- and watched it be returned for a touchdown -- and fumbled it away again, and even blocked a field goal only to see the darn thing waffle through the goal posts for points.

Yes, for at least 45 minutes last night, Homecoming night for heaven's sakes, it appeared as if the Kentucky football Wildcats could do nothing right. Except one little thing: Refuse to lose.

"I can't remember," Bill Curry said, "when we've played a game with that much determination."

And who can remember the last time they blanked an opponent -- an SEC opponent, an opponent ranked 14th in the nation as recently as two weeks ago -- by a whopping 17-0 in the fourth and final quarter on the way to a 24-16 victory?

The Cats did. The same Cats who went 1-10 a season ago, who had lost nine straight home games, who trailed LSU 16-7 heading into the final 15 minutes last night at Commonwealth Stadium, only to roar from behind to a key SEC victory.

"We didn't panic because we had been stopping ourselves all night," quarterback Billy Jack Haskins said. "We knew that once we stopped doing that we would be all right."

And he was right, as Kentucky (3-3 overall; 2-2 in the league) stunned Gerry DiNardo's troops (3-3-1, 2-2-1) with a fourth-quarter comeback.

First, off a deft play fake, Haskins found a wide-open wide receiver, namely James Tucker, for a 29-yard touchdown pass, pulling the Cats to within 16-14 with 9:54 remaining.

Then place-kicker Brian Sivinski adroitly placed a pop-up kickoff -- "It was an accident," Curry admitted -- toward the right sideline, where confused Tigers inexplicably watched the football bounce, and bounce right into the hands of UK's Steven Hall, who had been racing downfield on the cover team.

"The Lord was with me," Hall said. "It didn't bounce to them, and it didn't bounce out of bounds. It bounced straight up to me."

At the LSU 26-yard line no less. Five plays later, tailback Ray McLaurin, subbing for the injured Moe Williams (bruised ribs), burst up the middle from 6 yards out for the go-ahead touchdown, making it 21-16 Kentucky with 8:06 remaining.

And, as it had done all night, the UK defense made it stand up on the way to holding the Tigers to 205 yards total offense. First play, it knocked the ball loose from Tiger tailback Kendall Cleveland, who had caught a Melvin Hill screen pass. Linebacker Lamont Smith jumped on the loose ball at the LSU 44. Sivinski booted a 32-yard field goal and it was 24-16 with 4:23 remaining.

Finally, when LSU made a first down just to make it interesting, a Baton Rouge native, Cat cornerback Van Hiles, shut the door, intercepting a Hill pass at his 33 with 2:51 remaining.

"It was like nothing we could do was going to keep us from winning the game," Curry said.

Not even the loss of Williams, the SEC's leading rusher, who gained 92 yards on 22 carries in the first half, but left the game in the third quarter with bruised ribs, only to be replaced by McLaurin, who rushed for a career- high 107 yards on 25 carries.

"Moe was nauseated at halftime, but he said he was going back out there," Curry said. "But Ray did a great job."

Nor were the Cats deterred by squandering a first half in which they dominated statistically (197-114 in yards) only to trail 10-7, thanks to Pat Rogers' 66-yard interception return for a touchdown 34 seconds before halftime.

"There was no panic at the half," Curry said. "We've got veteran coaches, of course, but we've got a lot of gritty guys and it doesn't matter who's on the coaching staff when you've got those kinds of guys."

Four times in the first half, the Cats took the football inside the LSU 40- yard line. Only once, however, did the home team put any points on the scoreboard.

After recovering Eddie Kennison's fumbled punt at the LSU 20, Sivinski missed a 32-yard field goal, his kick sailing wide right.

Early in the second quarter, UK drove from near midfield to the LSU 5-yard line. But on third-and-goal, a Haskins pass to Antonio O'Ferral found the hands of Tigers cornerback Cory James. End of drive.

The Rogers interception hurt UK more. With the ball at the LSU 41 and less than two minutes remaining, Curry had elected to go for the first down. Williams popped through the line for 5 yards and the first down. But on the next play, Haskins lobbed a pass intended for Williams on the right sideline. It never got there. Rogers snatched the wounded duck out of the night sky and took off, rambling 66 yards -- UK's Jonas Leining, a redshirt freshman tackle, was the closest pursurer -- to put the Tigers in front.

It did not last, however.

"Under all the circumstances," said Curry, "I've never been more proud of a team, winning in that fashion."

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