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25-0 TRIUMPH UK'S FIRST OVER VANDY SINCE '90

Date story was published: Sunday, November 17, 1996

It kept jumping, kept jumping on Kentucky's back.

Five long seasons it jumped, higher and harder with each passing year, and the more it jumped the more embarrassing it became, the way it jumped on the Cats' flat back.

"It was like a monkey on our back," said defensive end Chris Ward.

Monkey? More like a black-and-gold gorilla in a size King Kong. Only, yesterday, Senior Day at Commonwealth Stadium, the monkey came tumbling off, and Kentucky was happy to celebrate the fall.

Using a big-play offense and a defense that first squelched Vanderbilt's inept running game, then smothered the Commodores in a second-half sackfest, the Cats dominated the 'Dores, breaking a five-year losing streak with a 25-0 shutout.

"This was the seniors' last game here, Coach (Bill) Curry's last game here," said strong safety Leman Boyd. "We had to go out and win this game. I'd never beaten Vandy."

Indeed, it was Kentucky's first win over their Nashville neighbors since a 28-21 victory in 1990, Curry's first year on the job. And it came on Curry's last home game on the job, the 54-year-old mentor having received the word nearly a month ago from the UK administration that he would not be returning next season.

Ironically, turning Curry into a lame duck somehow gave his Cats a new roar. UK first beat Georgia, then Mississippi State for a surprising, if modest, two-game win streak.

Yesterday was different. Prior to 1991, the Cats considered Vanderbilt a near automatic chalk mark in the victory column. But with first Gerry DiNardo, and then last year when Rod Dowhower assumed the Commodore controls, Vanderbilt had played against type, winning five straight.

Long victory droughts against SEC football opponents aren't the newest craze on the UK campus, mind you. Still, this was Vanderbilt. This was embarrassing.

"We just made a real point that the University of Kentucky is not going to let this happen anymore," Curry said.

If that statement was voiced before, this time the Cats backed it up. Nearly from the opening gun.

Third play of UK's second possession, quarterback Billy Jack Haskins fired a little sideline pass to wide out Craig Yeast, who then made a big move. The sophmore juked Vandy cornerback Fred Vinson. Free safety DeReal Finklin was really out of position, and the fleet Yeast motored 57 yards for the touchdown.

"They were playing man-to-man and I just threw out a hitch pattern," said Haskins. "Craig did the rest. He's not going to get caught from behind."

OK, but didn't UK get caught from behind last year, leading 10-7 going into the final quarter at Vandy only to lose 14-10?

This time the Cats advanced the advantage to 14-0, thanks to -yikes - a bit of daring. Next possession, faced with a fourth-and-17 at the Vandy 26-yard line, Curry sent in Brian Johnson for a 43-yard field goal attempt. Or so most everyone thought, including the visitors.

Instead, Haskins took the snap, popped up out of his crouch, and flipped a pass to tight end Isaac Curtis who barreled to the 1-yard line. Next play, fullback Lee Wesley scored. Johnson re-entered for the extra point and the Cats led 14-0 with 13:28 left in the second quarter.

"That was the play of the game," said Cat cornerback Van Hiles. "That play remained the same."

It remained the same until Vanderbilt made an amazing 98-yard retreat midway through the third quarter. First, the 'Dores, having pinned UK at the 2-yard line, let the Cats manage a pair of first downs. Then, 'Dore punt returner Alvin Duke bailed out on a fair catch at the last possible second, allowing Jimmy Carter's punt to roll to the 9-yard line.

Two snaps later, Ward, UK's right defensive end, ran his streak of games with a sack to eight by showing Vandy quarterback Damian Allen the end zone. Safety. UK 16-0.

And to keep the party going, the Cats tacked on two more scores.

By the end, the Cat defense had sacked poor Allen seven times, thus giving the Commodores a net minus-29 yards rushing. Overall, Vandy managed just 91 total yards, the fewest by a UK foe in the Curry Era.

On offense, Haskins completed 17 of 30 passes for a career-high 217 yards and two touchdowns. Logan had gained 100-or-more yards for a third straight game, gaining 132 yards on 26 carries.

And when Johnson added a 37-yard field goal with 1:17 left it marked a season high for UK in points and added a punctuation mark.

Or did that come afterward, when senior captain Van Hiles coaxed ends Ward and Kurt Supe into giving Curry a brief victory ride?

"If I was strong enough, I would have carried them," said Curry.

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