Date story was published: Sunday, November 13, 1994
In a corner of the Wildcat Den beneath the East grandstand of Commonwealth Stadium, Bill Curry sat waiting to do his post-game radio show yesterday, when suddenly the coach slid his hands inside his glasses and over his tired eyes, leaned forward in his chair, elbows resting upon his knees, and just sat there, saying nothing, and everything, at exactly the same time.
How low could it go? This low:
Northeast Louisiana 21
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"We represent the Southeastern Conference . . . and we're supposed to beat outside opponents, any outside opponents regardless of their record or what they've been doing," Curry had told the media moments earlier after his team's record-breaking ninth straight loss. "But we haven't played like we're supposed to all year."
And yesterday, before the smallest crowd (estimated 32,000) in stadium history, the year hit absolute rock bottom as Curry's Cats suffered its latest and greatest embarrassment, falling to Division I-A neophytes Northeast Louisiana.
With UK facing fourth-and-goal at the 10-yard line, Indian safety Alonzo Hampton tripped up an off-balance Clyde Rudolph enough for the Cats' senior wide receiver to hit the turf 2 excruciating yards short of the end zone as time ran out.
It was 2-8 Northeast's first win over a Division I-A opponent since joining that classification this season.
"This was a great victory for our program," Coach Ed Zaunbrecher said.
An upset? Yes, considering the hosts were a curious 16-point favorite, and that Northeast had previously lost to the likes of Central Florida and Jacksonville State.
But a surprise? Hardly. "It's a microcosm of our season," said Curry, his club now 1-9. And it was at least from two sharp angles. Once again, even against Northeast, the Cats were ill-equipped to stop the run. And once again, playing late-game beat-the-clock, the Cats failed to beat the buzzer.
The Indians rushed for 266 yards in outgaining UK a whopping 431-270 overall. Freshman tailback Carson Fields, who had carried 36 times all season, gained 147 yards. Fullback Eric Foster, a 228-pound bruiser, added 104.
"They had the size on us," said Chad Hudson, UK's middle linebacker. "We had a hard time getting off blocks and getting to the ball."
"We weren't attacking," UK safety Melvin Johnson said. "We were playing high school ball."
Up 7-0 at the half, the visitors went ahead 14-0 early in the third quarter, again running the ball at and through the UK defense. On third-and- eight, Fields gained 13 yards to the 3. On third-and-goal from the 2, quarterback Raymond Philyaw hit a wide-open Markee Lockett for the score.
Kentucky's Kio Sanford returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. And the Cats tied it early in the fourth quarter, driving 94 yards in 13 plays, the best being a 37-yard flea-flicker/lateral from quarterback Jeff Speedy to wide-out Randy Wyatt to wide-out Leon Smith.
But less than three minutes later, Zaunbrecher made his former boss at LSU, UK defensive coordinator Mike Archer, pay dearly for a blitz.
On second-and-12 from his own 46, Philyaw saw star wide-out Stepfret Williams sneak past UK corner Steven Hall and delivered a 54-yard TD bomb, making it 21-14 with 8:37 remaining.
"All I had to do was look at it," Hall said. "But by the time I looked up, he already had the ball located."
Still, UK had a chance to save its bacon. Starting from his 30 with 4:40 remaining, Curry opted to chew up the clock in hopes of scoring, going ahead with a two-point conversion, and leaving Northeast no time to rally. "That was the plan," the coach said.
And, save for that little technicality about scoring, it nearly worked.
After alternating his quarterbacks throughout the game, Curry chose second- stringer Antonio O'Ferral, the better runner, for the final drive. UK ran 15 straight times, the last a 2-yard quarterback sneak for a first down at the 7.
But then, "The quarterback draw backfired on us," Curry said.
On second-and-goal, with three receivers lined up wide right, UK played too close to its tendencies, sending O'Ferral up the middle. Northeast, playing it perfectly, threw the QB for a 3-yard loss as the clock ticked on.
"I knew right away it wasn't going to work," O'Ferral said, "so I just got down and back up as quick as I could."
With 15 seconds left, the junior took the next snap, failed to find an open receiver in the end zone, and heaved the ball behind the end line. That stopped the clock at :10, setting up fourth down and one final play.
It turned out to be a flanker screen, with O'Ferral hitting Rudolph, the '94 SEC 200-meter indoor champion, at about the line of scrimmage.
But Rudolph stumbled -- "I kind of slipped trying to make a move on the safety," he said -- allowing Hampton time to close and hit the diminutive Cat enough to keep him from the end zone.
"If I don't slip," Rudolph said, "then I think I would have scored."
"I think had he not stumbled he would have run into the end zone," said Curry. "But he did stumble, and that's sort of been the story of the year, too."
How low could it go?