Date story was published: Sunday, October 23, 1988
It was like solving a mystery. They'd get a clue, follow a lead down a dark road. They'd get so close, these Kentucky Wildcats, to finally discovering what this thing called winning is all about. And then the inevitable. An interception. A blown coverage. A blocked kick. Another dead end.
It happened against Auburn, against Alabama. Just last week, it happened at LSU. The past decade, it had happened against Georgia.
Yesterday, it did not.
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Kentucky 16, Georgia 10.
Yes, yesterday the Cats cracked the case. They ended an eight-game Southeastern Conference losing streak, a 10-game series losing streak. After three wrenching SEC losses this year, Jerry Claiborne's club finally found victory, upsetting the 11th-ranked and conference-leading Bulldogs at Commonwealth Stadium -- UK's first win over Georgia since 1977.
"We finally put it all together," said Jay Dortch, UK's senior defensive end. "We finally played a complete game."
"I just thought we played a tremendous game," said Claiborne, who beat Georgia for the first time in his 27-year head coaching career. "In all phases of the game."
The UK defense was terrific -- "Everything we expected and even more," Georgia coach Vince Dooley said afterward -- holding the potent Bulldog offense to 224 total yards. Star tailback Tim Worley (99 yards-19 carries) was held under 100 for only the second time this year.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky offense was always efficient, at times spectacular. Alfred Rawls, a former Georgia signee, rushed for 128 yards on just 15 carries. His 48-yard, third-quarter touchdown run proved to be the game- winner.
And the Cat kicking game, a UK bugaboo, was nearly perfect. No blocked kicks. No botched snaps. No fumbled returns. "We didn't make any crucial mistakes," said Claiborne, his team now 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the SEC.
"Kentucky's a tough football team," said Dooley, his Dogs now 5-2 and 4-1 in the league. "They've fought back against their frustrations time and time again, to their credit, and they deserve this one."
Mainly because UK finally found the final piece to its personal puzzle, the final clue. Put simply: The Cats were tough in the clutch.
"We made the plays we needed to make, right when we needed to make them," Claiborne said.
Right from the start. Georgia opened the game with John Kasay missing a 43-yard field-goal attempt into a stiff wind. The Dogs got the ball right back when Glenn Fohr's pass deflected off tight end Charlie Darrington and into the hands of Georgia linebacker Morris Lewis at the Bulldog 41. But again the UK defense held, forcing a punt.
This time, the Cats marched, going 85 yards in 14 plays. Rawls had a 20- yard run to the Georgia 2. Two plays later, Ivy Joe Hunter scored. Ken Willis' kick made it 7-0.
On the next UK series, Lewis made another interception. But again the damage was slight. After a first-and-goal at the Kentucky 9, Georgia was held to six yards on three runs and the Dogs had to settle for a 20-yard Kasay field goal.
It remained 7-3 at the half -- just as UK led Alabama 17-0 at the half and LSU 6-0 at the half, only to lose both. "But the big thing was we had to win the fourth quarter," said linebacker Randy Holleran, who made 13 tackles. "That's what had killed us in those other games. We said all week that we were going to win that fourth quarter."
First, the Cats had to get through the third. After UK took the football with its second-half option, Dooley decided to take the wind. "I didn't want Kentucky to have the ball and the lead and the wind all in the third quarter," the Georgia coach said.
At first, the strategy worked. From his 13, UK punter Jay Tesar wobbled a 26-yard effort. The Dogs scored in six plays. Worley had a 31-yard run, his longest of the day, then scored from the 1 on fourth-and-goal. Georgia led 10-7.
Two series later, the visitors' Rusty Beasley picked off a pass from UK's Chuck Broughton, who had replaced Fohr on the previous set of downs. Suddenly, Georgia had the lead, the wind, and the ball at the Kentucky 42. "We had a chance to fold," Claiborne said.
Instead, the Bulldogs fumbled. Quarterback Wayne Johnson dropped the football. UK linebacker Chris Chenault recovered. "That was the turning point," Dooley said.
Rawls didn't let the opportunity slip away. The speedy junior-college transfer took a handoff to the right side, avoided the grasp of Dog linebacker Brent Collins while cutting inside of strong safety Vince Guthrie, and was off to the races -- UK's, not Keeneland. "I thought I was going to bounce it outside," Rawls said afterward. "But I saw Guthrie and was able to get back inside."
The 48-yard run made it 13-10. Willis' extra-point attempt struck the left upright. No matter. Said Dooley, "That run was the ball game."
The UK defense made sure of that. First came the Cat sack attack. End Tony Massey tackled Johnson for a 13-yard loss. Then tackle Oliver Barnett sent Johnson back five more yards to his own four. Worley got five of those yards back. But Joey Hester's punt, into the wind, traveled just 35 yards.
UK took over at the Bulldog 43. Rawls gained eight yards in two carries, setting up a third-and-two. Lining up in a power-I, flanker Ray Gover took a handoff from Broughton and slowly drifted right, as if to pass.
"I waited as long as I could," the senior said, "but I didn't see (an open receiver). I knew we only needed two yards and somebody made a good block, so I just ran it."
Twenty-one yards later, Gover was brought down at the Georgia 14. Four plays later, Willis kicked a 43-yard field goal, making it 16-10 with 10:42 left.
Twice more Georgia got the football. Twice more the Bulldogs failed to produce points.
Both drives started at the Georgia 20. The first stalled after one first down. Greg Talley, Georgia's second-string quarterback, began the second. But UK tackle Doug Houser sacked him for a 5-yard loss on first down. Talley scrambled for no gain on second down. Then Houser forced Talley into an incompletion on third down.
UK took the Georgia punt at the Bulldog 41 with 2:25 left. It made a first down. Then another. And then Georgia had no more time outs and the clock was ticking like the countdown to an explosion.
Said Claiborne, "I was thinking, we can't screw it up now."
"This just means a world to our team," Massey said afterward. "It has been a long time since Kentucky beat Georgia."
Said Holleran, "It was wild in the locker room, like we'd won the championship of the world."
He paused for maybe a second, then said: "We are winners at Kentucky. We just had to pull together and prove it."
Yesterday, they did.