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CATS STUMBLE INTO 21-7 HOLE, LOSE TO MISSISSIPPI 35-29

Date story was published||| Sunday, October 7, 1990

OXFORD, Miss. -- To accentuate the positive:

It was there at the brink of a blowout, the home team up three touchdowns, its fans waving their Rebel flags in the Mississippi sunshine before a national television audience. Kentucky being the ones about to be blown out.

"We were playing for pride," said Cat linebacker Randy Holleran.

They held that, scoring on a wonderful catch with 2:40 left, recovering an awful but weird onside kick, scoring again as time expired, then going for two points and making that, too.

Now the negative:

Mississippi 35, Kentucky 29.

"It was too little, too late," said quarterback Brad Smith.

True, the Rebels did not claim their desired rout -- revenge for last year when Bill Curry's Alabama team rocked the Rebs 62-27 -- but Billy Brewer's club did get the victory, his career 100th, his team's fourth this season in five games. It is Ole Miss' best start since 1970.

Halfback Randy Baldwin scored on runs of 15 and 21 yards. Vincent Brownlee returned a punt 58 yards to set up another score. Linebacker Shawn Cobb recovered a Smith fumble in the end zone for a touchdown after fellow backer Pete Harris leveled the Kentucky quarterback.

That made it 35-14 with 8:59 remaining. But, said Brewer, "We just couldn't stay on top like we would've liked to."

Kentucky covered 80 yards in 12 plays, the last snap ending when Phil Logan stretched and snatched Smith's 25-yard throw in the end zone with 2:40 remaining.

Then Cat kicker Doug Pelfrey managed to recover his own, spinning-to-a- stop, 4-yard onside kick after a Rebel made the unfortunate decision to try to pick up the football and run for a touchdown. Instead, he merely touched the ball. Pelfrey recovered it.

Twelve plays later, as the clock read 0:00, Al Baker punched the ball in from the 1-yard line. And, hoping against hope "seconds might be put back on the clock," Curry called for two points. Smith executed a fake extra-point kick by taking the snap and hitting tight end Neil Page.

"Had we not given the cheap one up, the blindside with the ball going into the end zone, it might have been a different story," Curry said. "The other reality is that we continue to dig ourselves into deep holes and fight back."

The Cats dropped to 1-4 overall, 0-1 in the SEC. They did so without starting quarterback Freddie Maggard (separated shoulder) and two of the SEC's best kick returners, Chris Tolbert (broken thumb) and Kurt Johnson (respiratory ailment), and with one of their better offensive lineman, Joel Mazzella (shoulder), unable to start for the first time in 25 games.

Smith, in his first collegiate start, completed 25 of 42 passes, without an interception, for 211 yards.

"Yes, Brad made some mistakes," Curry said, "but there were some great plays by Brad."

But the Cats also repeated several mistakes of the past. A sputtering offense -- just 166 yards through the first three quarters. The lack of a pass rush, which led to long completions -- quarterback Tommy Luke's eight completions netted 132 yards. The inability to stop the option. Inconsistent punting. And penalties.

As Ole Miss started slowly, UK punctured its chances with poor penalties. Kentucky did score first, Baker scoring on a 4-yard run after the Rebels lost 21 yards on a bad snap of a field-goal attempt. Then twice the Cats failed at a shot for a two-touchdown lead.

First possession, first play, Baker gained 6 yards. Then came an illegal procedure penalty. Two plays later, Baker made a nice gain on a screen pass from Smith. But the Cats were called for clipping. Second possession, third- and-two from their own 28, the Cats were flagged for illegal procedure. Then third-and-seven, Smith threw incomplete to Baker. Kentucky punted. Ole Miss took off.

Before UK scored again, it was 21-7 Ole Miss. With the Rebels up 14-7 at the half, Brownlee's long punt return -- "When you kick a line-drive punt to a player like that he's going to run it down your throat," Curry said -- to the Kentucky 23 helped put Ole Miss up by 14 with 9:28 left in the third quarter.

When Kentucky drove 80 yards to pull to within seven, 21-14, the Rebels responded with an 80-yard march of their own. The final 21 came when Luke caught the Cat defense napping, the quarterback pitching to Baldwin, who bobbled the ball. "Had we had anybody there we might have caught that thing," Curry said. Instead no one was there and Baldwin scored untouched.

"We were confused on that play," Holleran said. "Jeff Brady was hurt and the officials wouldn't call time out. The call got in late and not everybody heard it."

It was Cat confusion, as well, that led to Smith's fumble and the final Rebel score.

"We were in three receivers and they gave us a front we weren't really prepared for," said Smith of the second-and-10 play from his own 23. "I made a call and I made a mistake and didn't give the sight adjust out to our receiver. The linebacker came from the back side and I was going to try and get over the fullback's head and out of bounds but I didn't get it off in time."

Phillip Kent came through on the blitz, hitting Smith at the 10-yard line. The ball popped loose and hit the ground at the 5. Cobb recovered it in the end zone.

But, to its credit, Kentucky did not quit.

"We are becoming a fourth-quarter team, ever so slightly," Curry said. "We are finding some champions in our ranks. We're finding some people who can deliver when the chips are down."

Just not soon enough.

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