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CATS UPSET DREAMS DIE WITH 3RD-QUARTER TIDE ONSLAUGHT

Date story was published: Sunday, October 6, 1996

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The halftime storyline was shock-the-world stuff, Bill Curry threatening to hurl a figurative brick of his own through Alabama's Homecoming window.

Billy Jack Haskins, a late replacement at starting quarterback, had awakened the deep-asleep Kentucky offense with a 41-yard touchdown run. The Cat defense had gobbled up three Crimson Tide fumbles. Alabama had changed quarterbacks. And, with the scoreboard showing a tie game, the 70,123 at Bryant-Denny had ushered the home team into intermission with a smattering of boos.

"We felt good, but the game wasn't over with," said UK safety Van Hiles. "As you could see, it was far from over."

Indeed, 15 minutes later, the second half commenced. And in a five-minute span the storybook plot unraveled into some sort of cheap, crash-and-burn, B-Movie. B as in Bama. B as in beaten. B as in Alabama 35, Kentucky 7.

Tailback Dennis Riddle scored four touchdowns - three via ground, one via air - as the 13th-ranked Crimson Tide improved to 5-0 by handing UK its fourth loss in five games and ruining Curry's first trip back to the stadium he called home from 1987 to 1989.

But the (time)line of demarcation was a 5:14 span in which Curry's young club self-destructed in a flurry of costly errors. Twice UK turned the football over inside its own 20-yard line. Then, to top it off, it allowed a substantive punt return to set up a third Bama score.

"This game," said Bama Coach Gene Stallings, "was basically two halves."

Kelvin Sigler, a sophomore cornerback, started the Tide on its roll. First possession of the second half, the second-stringer downed Hayden Stockton's punt at the Kentucky 1-yard line. Two snaps later, Haskins rolled right and tried to pass out of his end zone.

"I thought I could get it over his head," the quarterback said later, "but he just pulled it right down."

He being Kevin Jackson, Alabama's All-SEC safety, who made the interception at the 6 -yard line. Three plays later, Riddle scored from the 2 . It was Alabama 14-7 with 9:51 left in the quarter.

Seven unlucky seconds later, UK's Harold Dennis fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Bama's Steve Harris recovered at the 20. Riddle scored again, this time from a yard out. It was Alabama 21-7 with 7:02 left.

Next futile UK possession, Bama's Deshea Townsend turned a short Jimmy Carter punt into an 18-yard return to the visitors' 35. Tide quarterback Freddie Kitchens escaped a rush and hit Riddle at the 20-yard line. The junior made Hiles miss at the 10, then creased the corner cone for the score. It was Alabama 28-7 with 4:37 left.

And it was over. Curry's shot at a happy homecoming was over. Kentucky's chance at not only its second victory this season but its second win ever over the vaunted Crimson Tide was over.

"To be tied at halftime with a good team and then go out and give the game away in the third quarter is very disappointing," said Curry, his team now 0-2 in the SEC.

"We're right there the first half," said strong safety Leman Boyd, "and then it was like wow, it was the third quarter and within five minutes they had put 21 points on the board. We were stunned."

Just as Alabama was stunned by a single second-quarter play. With Tim Couch bothered by tendinitis in his throwing elbow, Curry inserted Haskins as the starter at quarterback - "They told me about 10 o'clock (yesterday) morning," Haskins said - and relied on the option to try and circumvent Bama's penetrating defense. For 31 first-half plays, the strategy came up empty. But for one play, it hit paydirt.

"We just got a seal on the right side, and Quentin McCord made a great block, and I just had to go down the sideline," said Haskins, whose second-quarter dash was not only UK's longest play of the season, but broke a string of 14 straight quarters without a touchdown and tied the score at 7-7.

"I was just glad to see the offense do well, because they've taken so much flak," said middle linebacker Mike Schellenberger. "The defense fed off of that the rest of the half."

But in the second half, the Cats went hungry. Second from the nation's bottom in total offense, and last in scoring offense, the Cats managed just 124 total yards yesterday against a Bama defense ranked fifth best nationally. Key stat: UK did not manage a first down the entire second half.

"Kentucky's offensive line was big, but they were slow," said Bama end Kelvin Moore. "They tried to run the option, but with our speed it was pointless. They had that one big play, but after that we were all over them."

Just as the brief story of a Saturday stunner was over for the Cats.

Said Hiles, "You make those kinds of mental mistakes against a good team and they'll make you pay. They made us pay."

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