Date story was published: Sunday, October 2, 1988s
The fear was there. Always and forever. A fear born of time, nurtured by bitter experience. A fear that no matter the score on the board, no matter the time on the clock, in the end Alabama would somehow find a way to win, Kentucky somehow a way to lose.
There were times yesterday at Commonwealth Stadium when the fear was suppressed by the home team, or forgotten, or even discounted. Yet it never disappeared. Always and forever. And in the end, once again, fear flamed into reality.
First quarter: Kentucky 10-0.
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Halftime: Kentucky 17-0.
Third quarter: Kentucky 20-7.
Final: Alabama 31-27.
Scoring 24 points in the final period -- the most ever against UK in a single quarter -- the final seven with 10 seconds left, Alabama's Crimson Tide roared from behind to shatter yet another Kentucky dream.
Trailing 27-24 with 2:44 left, the Tide drove 86 yards in 10 plays to win it. Quarterback Vince Sutton had a crucial 17-yard, fourth-down scramble for a first down. Two snaps later, flanker Todd Richardson took a 45-yard Bama bomb away from UK defensive back David Johnson at the Wildcat 5-yard line.
Ultimately, on a courageous fourth-and-goal call from the Kentucky 3, Sutton (a reserve benched earlier in the game) executed a perfect bootleg, hitting wide-open tight end Gene Newberry (a senior with one previous career reception) in the right side of the end zone for the game-winner, capping a truly terrific Tide comeback.
"This," said Alabama coach Bill Curry, "was a big, big win for us."
For UK, holding a 27-16 lead with six minutes left, this was defeat's painful sting once again.
Ever had a tougher loss, Jerry Claiborne was asked?
"Don't remember when," said the UK coach. "Don't remember when."
Emotion aside, the WTBS cameras must have loved it. Alabama entered 2-0, ranked 12th nationally, the loss of stars Bobby Humphrey and Gene Jelks its story line. UK's tag: Though they had but one win over Bama in 30 tries, the 2-2 Cats had a history of playing big boys tough but not beating them.
Yet there was something different about yesterday. For openers, Kentucky caught a break early. A Glenn Fohr pass deflected off wide receiver John Bolden into the hands of fellow Wildcat Ray Gover for a 37-yard score.
A 38-yard Ken Willis field goal made it 10-0, before UK's Al Baker scored on a 42-yard dash. That made it 17-0 UK with 12:47 until halftime.
But by that time, the fear had revealed its presence. Two minutes before Baker's score, the Cats had lost their best offensive lineman, tackle Mike Pfeifer. The all-conference junior suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament in the left knee. He was to undergo surgery today and is probably out for the season.
Three minutes before halftime, Fohr tried to make something happen and instead made disaster. On third-and-goal from the visitors' 4, the right- handed UK quarterback rolled left under heavy pressure, saw Ivy Joe Hunter open and tried to pass the ball to him left-handed. Bama's Lee Ozmint intercepted.
"That was the play of the game," Curry said. "If they go to 24 before halftime . . . "
Still, UK led by 17. True, last year the Cats led Georgia 14-3 and Tennessee 17-14 at the half and lost both. True, throughout its football history UK has flirted with many a shocking upset only to fall short.
But yesterday "we were shutting them down all day," said Vic Adams, UK's defensive guard. The Wildcat defense held the visitors to four first downs and 58 yards total offense the first half.
In fact, Bama's first points came off a fumble and a freak. Three plays after recovering a Fohr fumble at the UK 14, the visitors faked a field goal and holder Chris Mohr, the Tide punter, hit Philip Doyle, the place-kicker, with a 12-yard scoring pass.
After both sides swapped field goals, Murry Hill, Humphrey's speedy replacement, got loose. He broke free from UK safety Ron Robinson and sped 76 yards for a touchdown. Bama's try for two points failed, but suddenly the Kentucky lead was down to 20-16 and there was 11:18 left.
Only this time the Cats fought back. Fohr passed 44 yards to Phil Logan. Alfred Rawls rambled 22 yards to the Tide 1. Fullback Andy Murray scored from there. Kentucky 27, Alabama 16. Five plays later, Alabama punted.
There was 8:15 to go; 8:15 for Kentucky to fight its fear; 8:15 for Alabama to find a win.
First came a Rawls fumble at the UK 32. Bama's Kermit Kendrick recovered. Back came Sutton, who had replaced starter Jeff Dunn in the second quarter, only to be replaced by Dunn in the third. On third-and-goal from the 7, Sutton lofted a floater into the right corner of the end zone. UK's Johnson and Bama's Greg Payne went up together. Payne came down with the football. Hill ran in the two-point conversion and the UK lead was 27-24 with 5:06 left.
A Tide personal foul on the kickoff gave Kentucky possession at the 43. On first down Derrick Thomas sacked Fohr for a 6-yard loss. On second down Hunter was thrown for a 1-yard loss. After a 13-yard Alfred Jones reception, UK punted.
And, from its own 14, Bama marched to victory. The drive's first key play was Sutton's fourth-and-seven 17-yard scramble from his own 17. Then, after a 16-yard pass to tight end Howard Cross reached midfield, Richardson made a great play, outfoxing Johnson for Sutton's 45-yard floater.
"It happened so fast," Johnson said. "We were playing man-to-man and I heard the roar of the crowd so I looked back for the ball. It was a pitiful pass, really. He just squirmed in there and got it."
Starting at the 5, three runs produced 2 yards, leaving a fourth-and-goal from the 3 and a decision to make with 15 seconds left: kick for the tie, gamble for the win.
Curry gambled. "I couldn't have faced my players if we had settled for a tie," he said.
The play called was a fake sweep to the left side before throwing a bootleg pass to the right. The key, according to Alabama's offensive coordinator Homer Smith, was the play-fake. "He told me I had to sell the play," said Sutton.
Kentucky bought it. "As soon as I turned out of the snap I knew I was going to be open," Newberry said. "The guy covering me made a false move left."
"It was me," said Robinson, who was covering the right side. "They started the play left and I went with it and he got open."
Said Sutton: "It felt like the ball took forever to get there."
But get there it did.
"As bad as we were," Curry said, "we found a way to win."
While again, Kentucky . . .