Date story was published: Sunday, October 13, 1996
It kept trotting back out there, time after time, possession after possession, sometimes bending but never breaking, until finally, when the fourth quarter rolled around last night at Commonwealth Stadium, the Kentucky defense was all used up.
It happened with 8:17 left and the host Cats clinging to a three-point lead. It happened when Duce Staley, South Carolina's top-flight tailback, took a pitch from quarterback Anthony Wright, headed around right end, then was hit, and hit, and hit again, his 5-foot-11, 211-pound frame feeling gravity's pull to the cold, hard ground.
"I thought I had him; I should have had him," UK defensive end Chris Ward would say later. "I was one of the ones who missed him. I thought we had him down, and then I looked up and I was like, "Damn, he's still going.' "
Indeed, the Duce was loose. And a few scants second later, the senior star was in the end zone and Kentucky's goose was cooked as the visiting Gamecocks rallied for a 25-14 victory.
"We have got to move the football," UK Coach Bill Curry said.
Yet for the sixth straight game, the Cats could do no such thing, and as a result surrendered a 14-3 halftime lead and a shot at the season's first SEC victory.
Craig Yeast's 95-yard touchdown return and Tim Couch's excellent two-minute drill/67-yard drive that resulted in a 16-yard Derick Logan touchdown run had staked the Cats to an almost comfortable lead at intermission.
But, in the second half, the Cat offense was glued to the grass yet again, producing three first downs, sending the Cat defense onto the field time and again - 76 snaps in all - until finally Carolina hit the big one. Twice.
After Staley's run, to put icing on the cake, Wright found a wide-open Cory Bridges for a 27-yard touchdown with 3:16 left to seal South Carolina's third victory in six games. The Gamecocks are 2-2 in the SEC.
"The last two weeks we played pretty well and lost," said Scott, whose team outgained Auburn and Mississippi State, yet lost to both the past two weeks. "This week, we didn't play so well, but we were poised and kept competing."
Kentucky, meanwhile, fell to 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the SEC. The Cats got a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Craig Yeast, and a well-executed drive at the end of the first half by true freshman quarterback Couch, resulting in a 16-yard touchdown run by true freshman tailback Logan.
But the Cats managed three first downs and 55 yards of total offense the second half and were outgained 448-156 by the visitors.
"We once again stopped ourselves on drives with penalties and failing to execute," Curry said. "And our failure to execute two quarterback sneaks, one of them a fumble on our own goal line."
Indeed, South Carolina, capitalized not only on UK's fatigued defense but an acute case of fumble-itis to stage its rally.
First UK junior Kio Sanford fumbled away a punt return on his own 12-yard line with 3:10 left in the third quarter.
The visitors moved the ball to the 1-yard line. But on first-and-goal, Wright fumbled the snap, and Kentucky defensive end Ben Bird recovered.
Backed up on their 1, the Cats tried to sneak the football out for some breathing room. Couch gained one yard, but was poked in the eye and had to leave the game. In came Billy Jack Haskins, who had started the game before being relieved by Couch, to run the same play. Only this time Haskins fumbled, and Carolina end John Abraham recovered at the 1-yard line.
This time Carolina successfully executed the snap, and Staley scored from a yard out to make it 14-9. The Gamecocks went for two points - apparently a surprise to Kentucky, which had its extra point block-attempt team on the field - and Wright hit tight end Jason Lawson to make it 14-11.
Then came Staley's heroic run. "He's the best back we've faced all year," UK safety Leman Boyd said.
"Both Wright and Staley were great," Curry said. "They played great games both of them. Wright was not only elusive, but when we'd contain him on naked bootlegs, he'd get by us. Staley ran right through us, especially on the 58-yard touchdown. That was very poor tackling on or part, but it was also good running."
In all, Staley rushed for 193 yards (37 more yards than the entire UK offense produced) on 32 carries. Wright completed 15 of 24 passes for 129 yards and the one touchdown.
"It was just poor tackling," Boyd said. "We know we've been put in some tough spots, but it's our job to go out there and stop them."
"The defense does keep getting put in tough spots and it keeps responding," Curry said, "but our offense has got to start moving the ball. I think the defense did get tired, yes."
Couch finished with 11 completions in 23 attempts for 102 yards.
And Logan, in his first collegiate start, gained 72 yards on 18 carries, but in the end the Cats could improve on their Division I-A worst average of 155 yards a game by 1 yard. "We need to make people beat us, instead of beating ourselves," Couch said. "I'm not really sure why we didn't move the ball the second half. I think South Carolina had something to do with it, and we had something to do with it."