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LAST-MINUTE SCORE SPOILS UK'S OPENER

Date story was published: Sunday, September 15, 1985

Something not so funny happened to Kentucky yesterday on its way to fame and fortune this football season.

The Wildcats lost.

More correctly put, Bowling Green won, ruining the start of what is supposed to be a Wildcat joyride this season with a 30-26 victory.

As Bowling Green coach Denny Stolz was quick to remind, his underdog team was cannon fodder for no one.

"What do all those smart--- reporters think now?" Stolz crowed as he rode off the field on the shoulders of offensive tackle Rick Mitchell and strong safety Dean Bryson.

Apparently, the Falcons' coach became miffed after reading that his team was considered an underdog and his quarterback's Heisman Trophy candidacy far- fetched.

However, the quarterback in question, Brian McClure, had already said he was "realistic" about his Heisman chances. Yesterday, his three touchdown passes and field generalship indicated his feelings about being an underdog were not hurt beyond repair either.

"Oh, we're used to all that," McClure said of the pre-game journalism. "It comes from being in the conference we're in (Mid-American Conference).

"I'll say this, though, if we had lost, I'd have felt we should have won."

On this day, it was hard for UK and the Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 57,620 to argue.

In effect, McClure had Kentucky beaten twice. The Cats slipped the noose once when the 6-foot-6 quarterback fumbled a snap away at the UK goal line late in the third quarter with his team already leading 21-20.

"I pulled away too fast and the center probably got excited and broke too early to block," McClure said. "I figured that was it."

On Bowling Green's second opportunity to close out the game, Kentucky's ambitions were left twisting in the wind. With 23 seconds remaining, and UK clinging desperately to a 26-21 lead, McClure capped a textbook last-minute drive by connecting with flanker Greg Meehan in the middle of the end zone for the winning touchdown pass.

All that was left was for the Wildcats to botch a cross-field lateral with the ensuing kickoff - the ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety - and head for the locker room to lick their egos.

"We thought all we had to do was roll our helmets on the field," UK co- captain Jon Dumbauld said.

Until McClure's late heroics, UK appeared in good shape. The Wildcats had ridden a record-breaking quarterback of their own: Bill Ransdell. Ransdell had already hit fullback Chris Derry with a 9-yard TD pass and was en route to a personal-best 313 passing yards. (His previous best was the 209 yards he threw for at Mississippi State last season.)

And, the Wildcats got a lift when Mark Higgs proved able to play. The sophomore tailback, his career interrupted by major knee surgery last spring, carried 11 times for 36 yards.

When Joey Worley kicked his fourth field goal of the game - a school record - to put the Wildcats ahead 26-21 with 2:52 remaining, a hard-fought victory seemed imminent.

Then McClure took over.

"Brian is great in that situation," Meehan said. "We're relaxed because we know he'll do all the right things all the time."

McClure was nearly perfect on the winning drive, completing seven of 11 passes. He opened the march with four straight completions, the fourth a 20- yarder to Meehan that moved the ball to the UK 28.

On a fourth-and-eight at the UK 26, McClure found tight end Gerald Bayless crossing the middle for a 15-yard completion.

"It was just a crossing route but that seemed to confuse them all day," McClure said. "On that play, he (Bayless) was wide open."

Bowling Green came up empty on its first two passes from the 11. On first down, McClure tried to float a timing pass over UK halfback Maurice Douglass to split end Stan Hunter down the right side. The Falcons had taken their first lead of the game (21-17) when McClure hit Hunter on a similar 11-yard pass with 9:23 remaining in the third quarter.

"Douglass got a little smart," McClure said. "He picked up our reads a little better." Burned once, Douglass knocked down the pass at the last moment.

On second down, McClure looked for Meehan on the left sideline, but UK's double coverage forced him to throw the ball away.

McClure's game-winner, his 30th completion in 48 attempts, was a blind throw that did not find its intended target. He was looking for Bayless across the middle.

This time, however, Bayless got held up at the line. Under a heavy rush, McClure threw the ball up for grabs. Meehan, who had crossed into the middle of the end zone, outfought UK's Russell Hairston and Douglass for the touchdown.

"I didn't see the catch," McClure said, "but I heard it was a good one."

Stolz, who claimed his 100th coaching victory, said an "organized scramble" was responsible.

"When we get in trouble, there are three players who go to specific areas on the field," he said. "All teams do it that way. The quarterback can close his eyes and he'll know the people will be there. We threw the ball to a spot. It worked this time."

Bowling Green's decision to kick a meaningless one-point conversion to increase its lead from 27-26 to 28-26 gave UK a flicker of life. A two-point conversion would have preserved a tie for the visitors if Kentucky had positioned Worley for a fifth field goal in the final 23 seconds.

"We should have, we should have, we should have," Stolz said of the two- point option. "I left that to the assistant coaches. See what happens when you do that?"

The point proved moot when Cornell Burbage fielded the kickoff and threw a pass over Mark Wheeler's head. The ball rolled into and out of the end zone for a clinching safety.

All of McClure's touchdown passes came in the second half. Trailing 17-7 at intermission, McClure hit Bayless on a 17-yard TD pass and Hunter on an 11- yarder to give Bowling Green a 21-17 third-quarter lead.

Only in the second quarter did UK shut down McClure. The Cats sacked the senior quarterback twice in the period and held him to 1-for-5 passing. Otherwise, McClure kept UK's pass rush off-balance with quick flips and arching passes downfield.

"Our front four got to him once (a sack by reserve John Shannon)," Dumbauld said. "That's pitiful." Mazza had the other sack on a blitz from his defensive end spot.

Ransdell enjoyed good protection, but completed only 15 of 34 passes. His stats were given a considerable boost by Cisco Bryant's 82-yard catch-and-run that set up UK's first touchdown.

"I threw some terrible passes today," he said. "Probably the worst was the interception. That was the difference in the game."

The pass came three plays after the McClure-to-Bayless touchdown cut UK's lead to 17-14.

On a third-and-eight from his own 11, Ransdell tried to connect with tight end Martin Pennington over the middle. Linebacker Chris Hartman stepped in front and returned the ball to the UK 11.

"I saw him (Hartman) coming," Ransdell said. "I thought I could get it in there. That was a terrible pass. As soon as I threw it, I started praying he'd drop it."

Already concerned about depth at defensive guard, UK lost Dan McMillan yesterday. McMillan, a senior from Louisville, tore two ligaments in his right knee and will have to undergo surgery, trainer Al Green said. McMillan tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and will probably miss the rest of the season.

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