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GRITTY CATS GIVE CURRY WIN IN DEBUT

Date story was published||| Sunday, September 2, 1990

Together, we survive.

"There is no such thing as an ugly win," said Bill Curry. "There are only wins and losses. That's all there are."

If you don't count survivals. And yesterday was that. The record book will show that Kentucky made the debut of its new head football coach a success, beating Central Michigan 20-17 before 57,550 in the sweatbox that was Commonwealth Stadium.

But a qualified success. Kentucky was outgained a whopping 343-216 yards by its Mid-American Conference foe.

"Frankly Central Michigan was a better team than I had even thought in my own optimistic or pessimistic -- depending on your perspective -- look at them," Curry said.

And yet Kentucky did survive. "Together we win" being the Cat 1990 motto, it took more than one hero. In his first college field goal attempt, Doug Pelfrey hit a 50-yarder. His 32-yarder with 12:23 left became the game-winner. Junior nose guard Joey Couch blocked a punt to set up UK's first score, sacked the quarterback to set up the second. Jeff Brady's interception sealed it. And all along, the Cats did not commit a turnover.

"We won by grit, hanging in there in the fourth quarter and with special teams," Curry said.

The "hanging in" was necessitated at least in part by the Chippewas, and their junior quarterback Jeff Bender, who threw for 201 yards and one score. "He was terrific," Curry said.

UK spent its first quarter dropping most of the throws from its quarterback, Freddie Maggard. Four balls were dropped in the first quarter, five in the game. "If we catch the balls that he hit us in the chest with," said Curry, "Freddie has a big day."

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Instead, Maggard was 13-of-27 for just 93 yards. And special teams, not the offense, got Kentucky on the new $600,000 scoreboard first.

With 1:24 left in the first, Couch blocked the punt of Central Michigan's Dennis Nicholl. "I was just at the right place at the right time," Couch said. "I came through on the punt before and almost got it. I looked up and said, 'Gosh, I can get a blocked punt for the first time ever.' Then the second time I got it."

Marty Moore caught the ball in midair and returned it 20 yards to the CMU 3. Fullback Al Baker got the score, bulling over on the first play for the first touchdown of the Curry era. Pelfrey's extra point made it 7-0 UK.

Not for long. Chippewa wide receiver Ken Ealy, who sneaked behind UK cornerback Chris Tolbert and safety Brad Armstead, took a Bender bullet for a 42-yard touchdown bomb less than a minute into the second quarter. Next, Bender took an option keeper 13 yards for a TD.

The score remained 14-7 CMU at the half, mainly because a Curry gamble failed. Fourth-and-two at the Chippewa 16, 3 1/2 minutes before halftime, Curry tried for the first down and later regretted the decison. "Blunder" he called it.

"It was mine," he said. "By all rights, we should have kicked the easy field goal. But there are times when you've got a play that is a guarantee touchdown. That's what we thought."

But a UK guard tripped. Central Michigan pressured Maggard. And the bootleg pass cleared the head of 6-foot-6 tight end Mike Meece.

"The game wasn't over," said Curry, asked if he was upset at the half. "Behind doesn't count until the gun."

And under the gun, Couch opened the second half by sacking Bender inside the CMU 5-yard line. Two snaps later, UK took over at the Central Michigan 42. Maggard hit John Bolden with a 7-yard floater in the left corner of the end zone to tie it at 14.

Pelfrey's 50-yarder, with 8:27 left in the third, put UK ahead. "He had been nailing them in pregame," Curry said. "Thursday we had him kick a 47- yarder in the mud and he nailed that."

But Central Michigan wouldn't wilt. Bender marched his troops 70 yards in 16 plays to the UK 4. Nicholl hit a 20-yard chip shot for the 17-17 tie.

Pelfrey untied it with his 32-yarder and Kentucky led 20-17. Then defense and, CMU argued, officials took it from there.

Bender moved his Chippewas to the UK 37. A fake punt produced a 10-yard gain to the UK 27. A snap later, Ealy again got behind Tolbert in the UK end zone. But this time the pass was short, and Tolbert, five yards in front of the receiver, got his hands on it to produce an incompletion.

Next play, linebacker Randy Holleran blitzed and grabbed Bender, who fired a pass to the left sideline a moment before hitting the ground. A moment later, referee Jimmy Harper of the SEC, standing by the quarterback, dropped a flag.

"I thought he was calling me for roughing the passer," said Holleran. "I said, 'Oh no!' "

Instead, Harper said intentional grounding. Central Michigan Coach Herb Deromedi said plenty, using a timeout to argue the call. No dice. The 15-yard penalty took the visitors out of field goal range.

"We had some tough luck," Deromedi said later. "The play was designed to have a man in the area and Bender threw to the spot. They saw it differently."

And CMU saw its chance for a major upset vanish. Next series, Holleran and bandit Jeff Brady combined to seal the win. With CMU on the UK 47, Holleran fired through again to hurry Bender into throwing right to Brady.

"I was kind of falling down and the ball just came to me like a magnet," said Brady, a senior.

Survival had come to the Cats.

Said Curry, "I'm real proud to be 1-0."

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