Date story was published: Sunday, October 27, 1996
The firing lit a fire.
Its head coach having received the axe earlier in the week, a fired-up Kentucky made a show of support last night, first with its headgear, then with its feet, upsetting Georgia 24-17 for a happy homecoming at Commonwealth Stadium.
An exuberant UK defense forced four turnovers, and a suddenly effective offense, led by tailback Derick Logan's 140 yards on a school-record 41 carries, capitalized as the Wildcats broke a 10-10 halftime tie and gave its outgoing coach, Bill Curry, a bittersweet win.
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Curry, now 24-51 in his seventh season at the helm, was informed Sunday by UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton he would not be retained at the end of the season. To show support for their coach, the UK players played last night without the block-letter "K" on the right side of their helmets.
"We just felt like the university had taken something away from us, that being Coach Curry," said senior strong safety Leman Boyd. "So we decided that we would just take one of the K's away from our helmets."
Ironically, what the Cats showed instead was something their critics claimed had been all too often missing in the Curry era. Namely, emotion. And the effect was UK's second victory of the season against six losses, and its first in five Southeastern Conference tries. Georgia dropped to 3-4 overall and 2-3 in the league.
"We just felt like we had nothing to lose tonight," Boyd said. "We wanted to be the spoilers."
So spoil they did, extinguishing Georgia's "Smoke" running game - featuring twin tailbacks Robert Edwards and Patrick Pass - holding it to a net 16 yards, and intercepting quarterback Mike Bobo three times.
"The key was our ability to control their running game," said Curry, who received a game ball from his team but brushed aside post-game questions concerning the emotion of the moment. "What I want is to focus on our players and the improvement they've made."
"They did a good job of beating us at the point of attack," said Georgia Coach Jim Donnan. "We couldn't generate a running game because they were doing a good job of lining up and just hitting us."
Plus, the Dogs turned it over. The game's first play was an omen, when Edwards dropped a pitch-out from Bobo. UK defensive end Kurt Supe fell on the football at the Bulldogs' 22-yard line.
But where previously the Cats' offense had squandered such golden opportunities, this time it struck gold. Quarterback Billy Jack Haskins hit tight end Isaac Curtis for an 11-yard gain. Then Logan did the rest, picking up 7 yards, then 4 more for the score and a 7-0 UK lead.
"That was big," Haskins said. "Our defense has been giving us the ball in good field position all year and we haven't been able to do anything with it."
The lead grew to 10-0 midway through the second period when junior-college transfer Tobin Anderson, in his first Division I attempt, kicked a 49-yard field goal.
Georgia fought back to tie the score, 10-10, at the half. But on the first drive of the second half, the Cats made another statement, going 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
"That was really big," said left offensive guard John Schlarman. "We ran a lot to the right on that drive and those guys did a great job. They were really knocking people off the ball."
Then Van Hiles, the senior defensive captain who came up with the idea of stripping the K's from the helmets, came up with the knockout blow. The cornerback picked off a Bobo pass, returning it 20 yards to the Georgia 17 with 5:11 left in the third quarter.
Seven plays later, on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Logan bore into the end zone off left tackle to make it 24-10 with 1:30 left in the quarter.
Georgia did provide a pre-Halloween scare, marching 68 yards, and converting two fourth downs a- long the way. On fourth-and-two at the UK 6-yard line, Georgia receiver Hines Ward took a shotgun snap, rolled left and hurtled 2 yards for the first down. Next play, Edwards scored, cutting the Kentucky lead to 24-17 with 5:15 remaining.
With 3:33 left, the Bulldogs got the ball back, at their own 4-yard line. But four plays later, Boyd picked off a Bobo pass to seal the deal. An emotional deal.
"We felt like we needed to go out and play for ourselves and for our team and have fun," Boyd said, "and to play for our coach."