Date story was published: Sunday, October 11, 1987
It was one part sensational tailback, one part swarming defense, several parts sentiment. If ever there was a recipe for revenge it was that last night for the Kentucky Wildcats, who produced an outcome both super and sweet.
Kentucky 35, Mississippi 6.
Senior tailback Mark Higgs rushed for 192 yards -- ho, hum, another personal best -- and two touchdowns, while the UK defense came dangerously close to pitching its third shutout this season as the Cats ripped the Rebels at Commonwealth Stadium.
It was quite a way to open its Southeastern Conference schedule as Kentucky ran its record to 4-1 on the season, running up its most lopsided SEC win since Jerry Claiborne became UK coach in 1982. And, last but not least, the Cats avenged an embarrassing 33-13 loss to the Rebels last October in Jackson.
"Kentucky is a good team, no question about that. I think they will do well in the conference," said Mississippi coach Billy Brewer, his team 0-2 is in the SEC. "They whipped us tonight."
And did so convincingly, rolling to a 16-0 lead at the half -- "It should have been 25-0," senior guard Butch Wilburn said -- then leading 35-0 before the Rebels finally dented the scoreboard, just 1:04 before the final horn.
"Needless to say," said Claiborne anyway, "we're really proud of the way we played tonight."
There were plenty of worthy candidates, starting with Higgs, the 5-foot-7 wizard from Owensboro. His 192 yards on just 14 carries was the third time this season he had topped his career high. Just last week, he had scooted through Ohio University for 169 yards.
Last night, he scored on runs of 22 and 40 yards. He had 123 yards on 10 carries in the first half alone. And he shattered an Ole Miss defense that had barked and taunted and humiliated the Cats a year ago. "Mark Higgs," said Claiborne, "ran about as good as anybody can run."
Then there was Glenn Fohr, the junior college transfer, making his first major college start. The New Jersey native hit just 9 of 22 passes. But one was for a touchdown, a 6-yard floater that a leaping Dee Smith hauled down in the back of the end zone. And several other Fohr completions helped set up scores.
Plus, there were the Cat defenders, who produced one score of their own, six times sacked Rebel quarterbacks and picked off four passes. Sophomore defensive end Tony Massey returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown. Four times defensive tackle Jerry Reese dropped the Ole Miss passer.
"I think with the exception of a couple of breakdowns in our kicking game," said Claiborne, "we just played a pretty darned good football game."
And an emotional one. After all, Ole Miss not only beat the Cats last season, it humiliated them, barking, laughing, constantly talking.
"Oh, man, they did that tonight," said Higgs. "That (Jeff) Herrod, that linebacker, the All-American. I just hate when a player that's good talks trash like he did. He talked the whole game. One time, I said, 'good tackle' to him. And he said, 'Yes, I know it was a good tackle, little boy.' That just fired me up."
Something the Rebels ought not to have done. Though the Cats didn't score the first quarter, their first two plays were runs of 22 and 14 yards by Higgs. The tailback also had a 47-yard scamper to the Rebel 3. Alas, he fumbled the next play, right to Herrod, who galloped 30 yards before being tackled from behind by Fohr. "It was close," said the UK quarterback. "I think I got his heel."
"I felt bad about the fumble," said Higgs. "I wanted to redeem myself."
The defense gave him the chance. The final play of the first quarter, Massey picked off a Mark Young pass and returned it 7 yards to the Ole Miss 35. Joe Worley kicked a 48-yard field goal, and Kentucky led 3-0.
That was just the start. The Cats scored two touchdowns inside the half's final six minutes. "Those barks," said Wilburn, "turned into whimpers by the second quarter."
The first came on a 56 yard drive that took three exceptional plays. The first was an 18-yard catch by tight end Charlie Darrington. The second was a shovel pass to Higgs, who stopped on a dime, reversed to the right and picked up 16 yards. Next play, Higgs burst up the middle, slipped a pair of Ole Miss tacklers at the 15 and went in for a 22-yard touchdown.
The second scoring drive saw Fohr, using the clock, march the Cats 66 yards in 12 plays to score just 14 seconds before halftime. The touchdown came on the Fohr floater to Smith. "That was a play we had worked on in practice," said Fohr. "Dee just made a tremendous catch."
"That," said Claiborne, "was a big, big play."
That made it 16-0. Today Worley is sure to swear it should have been 17. The senior barely missed the extra point, his first miss in 65 point-after- touchdown tries.
No matter. In the third quarter, the Kentucky defense again got in on the scoring act -- UK's ends again victimizing Ole Miss' Young. First, Carwell Gardner blocked a screen pass from the Rebel quarterback. Then Massey caught it and rumbled untouched 38 yards for the touchdown. The two-point try failed, but UK led 22-0.
A 49-yard field goal from Worley with 11:01 left put the Cats up 25-0. Then Higgs finished off his brilliant night with a 40-yard scoring dash on his final carry of the night.
"Mark called the play from the sideline," said Fohr. "He said he knew he could score on that."
The Rebels only score came after a 9-yard punt from UK's Jay Tesar. Backup quarterback John Darnell hit Willie Green for 40 yards. A pass interference penalty in the end zone put the ball at the 2. Darnell scored from there, keeping the Cats from recording their third blanking this season. The last Kentucky team do that was the 1976 Peach Bowl champions.
"We were confident going in," said Wilburn. "But now people can't say we've only beaten the old aged and blind women. Now we've played somebody good and beaten them."
"I feel much more confident now," said Fohr. "I felt like I got a little taste of it tonight."
A very sweet taste.