Date story was published: Sunday, September 10, 1989
It mattered not when or why or how many mistakes. Kentucky, no doubt, would commit its share. But in the end, vowed Jerry Claiborne, what would matter was this:
"No matter how many mistakes we made," was the head coach's pregame message to the troops, "we are going to hang in there and win."
And: "I tell you, we hung in there."
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The Wildcats did. And the Wildcats won, overcoming their errors to hang a dramatic 17-14 defeat on the hated Indiana Hoosiers on a sun-drenched day before the third-largest crowd in stadium history. Better still, they did it in tradition-busting fashion. The team that supposedly didn't know how to win, showed it could.
Kentucky made mistakes. Two interceptions. A booming 3-yard punt. A costly clipping penalty that nullified a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. And two lost fumbles, the final one the supposed back-breaker -- Kentucky up by a mere field goal with 8:26 left when quarterback Freddie Maggard and tailback Al Baker misconnected on a handoff at their own 20.
Only this time, the killing mistake did not kill. This time, the Cats dodged the bullet.
"That goal-line stand," Claiborne said, "was something else again."
With 5:06 left and Indiana one yard away from the go-ahead score, the Cats rose up to stop the visitors short. Linebacker Craig Benzinger, safety Ron Robinson and defensive guard Joey Couch combined to turn back Hoosier tailback Anthony Thompson as the IU star tried an air route to the end zone.
Couch got his body on Thompson's legs, making the back leave the ground early. Robinson, coming from the side, got his arms around Thompson's thighs. And Benzinger, coming from the top, placed his helmet square on Thompson's red hat, stopping the Hoosier star short of the goal line.
"That was the key play," said Indiana coach Bill Mallory. "You'd like to think you can make that yard."
There were other home-field heroes. Alfred Rawls rushed for 107 yards and scored both Kentucky touchdowns, one a 63-yard, jet-rocket ride to the end zone, the other on a 22-yard pass and run. Maggard, a sophomore quarterback making his first collegiate start, settled down from a shaky start to drive the Cats 62 yards in eight plays for a halftime tie. Ken Willis' 47-yard field goal in the third quarter put the hosts ahead for good.
The Kentucky defense battled the All-American Thompson, who gained 117 yards on 24 carries and scored one touchdown.
But the Cats stymied Dave Schnell, the Hoosiers' senior quarterback. A year ago, he riddled the Cats for 190 yards. Yesterday, Schnell totaled 67, completing but 10 of 23 attempts. "We had a whole lot better pass rush and did a better job of keeping him in the pocket," Claiborne said.
Thus the Cats kept the Hoosiers from murderous marches. IU's two scoring drives, both in the first half, covered 39 and 26 yards. Three times Kentucky stopped Indiana on downs. Donnie Gardner had two sacks, Tony Massey had a sack and a tackle for a loss. And the second half, even with backs to the wall, UK's defense blanked the Hoosiers.
"Oh man, you couldn't ask for a better home opener," said Massey, a senior outside linebacker. "Indiana embarrassed us last year. We had a lot to prove today."
To be sure, pride was involved. IU kicked the Cats 36-15 last year in Bloomington. Said Massey, "We've been looking forward to this game for a long time."
Kentucky took the early lead when Rawls, taking a pitch-out on the right side, saw daylight "as wide as the Tennessee River," he said. Hitting the jets, Rawls romped 63 yards for the score.
But then the costly errors began. Taking an IU punt at his own 9-yard line, Cat sophomore Chris Tolbert got a block and was off, 91 yards for the score. One problem. The telling block was judged illegal -- senior defensive back Albert Burks called for the clip.
The penalty stuck Kentucky at its own 6. Delay and motion penalties had transfer Bill Hawk at his own 3 for his first punt as a Wildcat. It traveled 36 yards.
A 10-yard screen pass from Schnell to Thompson, the seventh play on the scant 39-yard drive, produced an IU score, tying it at 7.
Two drives later came the second costly error, Maggard tossing his second interception. Hoosier safety Dave Ane made the theft at the UK 34, returning it to the 26. Four plays and IU led 14-7. Thompson dived in from the 1.
From then on, however, Maggard settled down, finding the groove in UK's drop-back or "backup" passing game. "The defense was flooding our sprint- outs," Maggard said. "But I made a couple of bad decisions. I just felt more comfortable dropping back."
Right before intermission, he found the range. Maggard first hit John Bolden for 26 yards, then found tight end Rodney Jackson for 17. Finally, after a 7-yard loss on an ill-advised option pitch, Maggard hit Rawls in the left flat. Grabbing the ball at the 17, Rawls was gone, scooting down the left sideline.
Willis' extra point tied it at 14. With 8:18 left in the third quarter, he untied it. Again, Maggard did damage through the air. He hit Rawls -- whose second reception was one more than the tailback had all of last year -- for a 30-yard gain, which earned an 15 extra yards when IU was called for roughing the passer. The drive stalled at the 30, and Willis booted the 47-yarder.
A Massey sack of Schnell stopped the Hoosiers on fourth-and-three at the Cat 30. And IU's next two drives ended in punts before the Hoosiers caught what they surely figured was the winning break. First-and-10 from UK's own 26, Maggard and Baker mishandled a simple handoff. "I thought I had put it in his gut and I carried out the fake," Maggard said. "I really don't know what happened."
Ane, having quite a game, recovered the bouncing ball at the UK 20. Two plays later, Indiana had a first-and-goal at the 9. Thompson gained a yard to the 8. Schnell picked up five to the 3. The quarterback then carried 2 yards to the 1, Benzinger making the TD-saving tackle.
After that, fourth-and-one, the Cats figured they knew what was coming -- Thompson. "I thought either Schnell would run a quarterback sneak or Thompson would go over the top," said UK assistant Terry Strock, who makes the defensive calls. "So we were looking for it up the middle."
And it was Thompson.
"Instead of going down low like we do on our goal-line charge, I jumped over top and hit him," said Couch, who got to Thompson's feet as the back went airborne. "If they came out with straight drive blocking they would probably have had me 10 yards in the end zone. It's just a chance you have to take. But when I hit him, I knew he wasn't going anywhere."
Indeed, Couch's hit let Robinson come in from the side, which allowed Benzinger to come in from the top. For the stop.
"If I had it to do over," Mallory said, "I'd make the same call again."
Indiana never got the football back, a Hoosier roughing-the-kicker penalty allowing Kentucky to run out the clock.
Said Couch, "We lost so many games in the fourth quarter last year. When we were in that defensive huddle and they were on the one-foot line, we said, 'We are not going to lose. We're winning this game.'"