Date story was published: Saturday, January 1, 1994
ATLANTA -- Not in bowls. Not like this. Kentucky football can suffer its usual heartbreaks 11 games a year, 11 regular-season games. But not now. A program that so rarely finds itself playing in December shouldn't lose in the cruel way it lost to Clemson 14-13 last night in the Peach Bowl.
But it did.
And the heartbreak shouldn't come as a result of something that happened to the player with the biggest heart.
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But it did.
And the player shouldn't be Marty Moore.
But it was.
Less than a minute remained last night in the Georgia Dome when Kentucky's All-SEC linebacker, the one who had been the heart and soul of his team, a bowl team for heaven's sakes, stepped in front of a Clemson player, 5 yards in front of the end zone, and made what looked to be the game-saving interception.
Only it wasn't. Kentucky football is still too cursed for that. Moore took off, running straight ahead, the opposite end zone in his sights. "I probably should have fallen on it, but I was going to score a touchdown," he would say later.
Instead, he was hit from the side by Clemson tailback Rodney Blunt. And the ball popped loose. And it bounced, right to Clemson tackle Brent LeJeune.
Two incompletions later, Tiger quarterback Patrick Sapp scrambled toward the line of scrimmage, and the Kentucky secondary moved up to meet him. But Sapp stopped and threw, hitting wide receiver Terry Smith in the end zone for a 21-yard score. For the Clemson victory.
"This was about Clemson, not about Tommy West," said West, making his Division I-A debut after taking over the Tiger program on Nov. 29. "Clemson knows how to win the tough football games. Always has."
But for UK football, it was a new miserable experience.
"I went from hero to chump," said Moore, who courageously appeared in the post-game news conference, and stuck around to talk more with reporters afterward. "I made a great play and then I fumbled it. I'll be remembered as the guy who lost the Peach Bowl."
He shouldn't be, of course, for plenty of reasons, starting with the simple fact that the senior from Fort Thomas Highlands is his team's best player, undoubtedly the best defensive player.
"Any loss is tough, but this one is particularly tough," said head coach Bill Curry, his team's season now done at 6-6. "I can't even express how I feel for Marty. He was our stalwart, our leader. To have the game in his hands like that, to have to deal with that. I feel terrible for him."
But then the Cats could have had the game in so many other ways. Showing up in a new-look, spread-the-field, balanced offense, Kentucky moved the ball up and down the field, yet died in the red zone. Twice in the first half, the Wildcats drove the football right to the Clemson goal line without pushing it across. "When you get as close as we did, you have to deliver," Curry said.
The first time, wide receiver Alfonzo Browning appeared to have the football right on the goal line. Taking the opening kickoff, and implementing spread-the-field wrinkles to its Stack-I offense, UK drove from its 20 to a first-and-goal at the Clemson 2. From there, Jones fired a bullet that Browning, a senior wingback, snagged at the 1.
Browning turned toward the goal line and, as he was being pulled back by a Clemson defender, tried to stretch the ball across the line into the end zone. Just as he appeared to be doing so, Browning lost the football. A near 22-player pileup ensued with Clemson linebacker Tim Jones being credited with the recovery.
"The officials were right there," Curry said. "That wasn't the difference in the ball game."
The Tigers turned their good fortune into points, punishing the smaller UK defense on a grueling 99-yard, 18-play drive that lasted 7:40. Fullback Emory Smith, the brother of one Emmitt Smith, chewed up 18 yards to the 2, then did the touchdown honors on the next play.
Two possessions later, after an Adrian Sherwood interception, the Cats drove to a first-and-goal at the Clemson 10. But on fourth-and-goal at the Tiger 1, tailback Moe Williams was stopped for no gain.
As the Kentucky defense shut down the Clemson offense in the second half, the UK offense finally found the end zone. A rolling Jones hit Mark Chatmon on a 5-yard scoring pass with 12:48 remaining to put the Cats ahead 10-7. Nickels added a 26-yard field goal with 7:28 remaining to make the lead 13-7.
But from there the only break UK got had to do with its heart. A 55-yard Dan Ariza punt pinned Clemson on its own 18-yard line with 3:50 left, and on the second play the Tiger offense that had been dormant for so long turned a short screen pass into a 57-yard play. Sapp hit Emory Smith, who broke an early tackle and took off to the UK 25.
"We thought they'd throw another pass other than the screen," said end Zane Beehn. "It was great execution on their part."
Six plays later came the high of Moore's interception.
Seconds later came the low.
"If anybody else had done that I would have been upset," said defensive coordinator Mike Archer. "But for what Marty has done for this program and for what he's done for this football team, those things happen. It's unfortunate it happened to him. That's what makes it so hard. Unfortunately, that's life. You have to deal with it. And it hurts."
Broken hearts, even in bowls, always do.