Date story was published: Sunday, September 23, 1984
NEW ORLEANS - After two weeks of the high road, Kentucky traveled the low road to victory yesterday.
The undefeated Wildcats, now 3-0, had to get grimy, dirty and even a bit lucky to beat -- make that outlast -- Tulane 30-26.
When Tulane, winless and believed to be hapless, refused to roll over, memories of this month's Kentucky laughers over Kent State (42-0) and Indiana (48-14) faded.
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In their place rose the specter of the game here four years ago when misfortune robbed the Cats of victory. (Some UK fans still firmly believe the officials played the James Brothers that day.)
But yesterday UK snatched victory from defeat in the Louisiana Superdoom, er, Superdome.
"I'd say we grew up today," co-captain David Thompson said. "You know, two years ago we might have found a way to lose. Now we find a way to win."
Each of Paul Calhoun's dual roles as punter and safety figured in "the way" yesterday.
His rocket of a punt in the third quarter so confused the returner that Tulane's Curt Baham tripped over his own feet trying to catch up to the ball. When Baham fell on his back, the ball hit him, the officials said. He said it didn't. The Cats thought it did.
When UK's Matt Stein fell on the ball in the end zone, it was a touchdown, not a touchback, and UK led 24-17.
"Luckiest thing I ever saw," a smiling Stein said.
Good fortune smiled once more in the fading minutes of the fourth quarter. By picking apart the UK defense with passes, as it had done all game, Tulane neared a go-ahead touchdown. The Green Wave covered 58 yards on three completions in the drive, reaching the Kentucky 8-yard-line with the third.
The fourth attempt, however, found its way to Calhoun via Gordon Jackson. Jackson tipped the pass away from tight end Wade Elmore. Calhoun had only to wait for the ball to come down.
"It was getting a little nerve-racking there," Calhoun said with a smile.
More than a little.
"I'm just happy to get out of this one," split end Joe Phillips said.
That echoed the feelings of UK Coach Jerry Claiborne, whose team made up in desire what it lacked in aesthetics.
"I don't think I've ever been in a wilder one," Claiborne said after shaking the hand of each of his players. "I'm proud of the way the kids fought back. I was wondering if we could come back."
If UK passed that test, so did Tulane. Many had given up the Green Wave for dead after a humiliating 63-21 loss to Florida last week. That loss followed a season-opening 30-3 loss here to Mississippi State.
Those lopsided losses might have been the reason only 16,505 spectators were in the Superdome for Tulane's Homecoming yesterday.
What they and the television audience saw was a Tulane program that is alive, if not entirely well.
"We're 0-3, but I don't think we're an 0-3 football team," Tulane quarterback Ken Karcher said. "I hope someone takes us that way."
UK apparently did. "They showed we were wrong," Calhoun said.
Karcher, who was 0-for-13 through the air against Mississippi State, completed 24 of 37 passes against Kentucky. Already vulnerable against the pass, UK was made more so when two defensive linemen, Jeff Smith and Tom Wilkins, suffered knee injuries in the third quarter. Both left the field for good in the third quarter. (Trainer Al Green said Wilkins would be available for UK's next game on Oct. 6 against Rutgers, but Smith may be out for as long as four weeks. Smith's injury was a subluxated knee, Green said, which means his knee cap became dislocated then returned to its proper position.)
Karcher threw for two first-half touchdowns, each erasing 7-point Kentucky leads. But when the transfer from Notre Dame needed a third, Calhoun got in the way.
In the game's final 90 seconds, the UK safety intercepted a long pass thrown up for grabs. That negated the possibility of another miracle finish like the one here four years ago when Tulane used two debatable pass interference calls to set up a winning field goal at the buzzer.
Only moments earlier, Calhoun had been in the right spot -- about five yards deep in the end zone -- to pick off his first interception. That interception preserved UK's 30-26 lead with five minutes left.
Elmore, who ran a slant pattern from left to right, had Jackson on his hip all the way. "The guy (Jackson) ran up under the ball," Elmore said. "I got one hand on the ball and he kind of tipped it in the air. When I came down, I saw it in the other guy's hand."
The timely tipped-pass drill was helped by Karcher's aim, which was high and slightly behind Elmore.
"It would have had to be a great catch," Karcher said. "In that situation, it can't be a little high or a little behind him."
Kentucky had Calhoun the punter to thank for its earlier second-half lead. Standing on his own 15-yard-line, the senior's punt came down inside the Tulane 20. There waited Baham, flat on his back because a slow backpedal had turned into a full retreat.
Baham reached up for the ball, but couldn't grab it. The bouncing ball crossed the goal line when UK's first man downfield, tight end Mark Wheeler, arrived. Wheeler, not hearing Claiborne's cry to fall on the ball, let it roll into the end zone.
"We got called for tapping the ball back into play at LSU last year; I didn't want a penalty," Wheeler said. "Heck, if I thought it was a live ball . . . ."
Stein decided to fall on the ball and ask questions later.
One referee signaled a touchback, but another came running downfield with his arms upraised to indicate a touchdown.
"He and Russell Hairston said he (Baham) touched the ball," Stein said.
Did Tulane protest?
"Not really," Stein said.
Indeed, the Green Wave players did quietly leave the field. Afterward, they protested.
"The ball didn't touch any part of my body," Baham said. "The ball didn't touch me. If it would have, I would have felt it."
Why didn't Baham protest the touchdown call?
"He wasn't going to retract it," he said. "We had to live with it."
Thanks to two UK turnovers, Tulane scored nine points between Calhoun's big plays and took a 26-24 lead.
Kevin Tate's interception and 25-yard return set up the first of those scores. As with Calhoun's interceptions, Tate had only to wait for the ball to come to him. A mix-up in the pattern -- Phillips broke upfield when Ransdell thought he would cut to the sideline -- delivered the ball to Tate.
The play snapped Ransdell's school-record streak of 74 attempts without an interception. (Rick Norton had the old record of 68.)
"We were both reading the cornerback," Phillips said. "I'll take the blame for it, but it's really nobody's fault."
Tate's return gave Tulane the ball at the UK 19. Seven plays later, Lester Lavalais, a 255-pound converted defensive tackle, bulled over from the 2.
UK clung to a 24-23 lead when Tony Wood hooked the extra point wide left, his first miss after 54 straight conversions.
"It was good snap; a good hold; it was just Tony Wood not kicking the ball," the soccer-style kicker said. "It is a time like that I'm glad I'm a religious person."
Wood's faith was rewarded early in the fourth quarter. He kicked a 53-yard field goal, which was one yard short of the school record. That kick, which put Tulane up 26-24 with 13:33 to play, was set up when Mark Logan fumbled and the Green Wave recovered at the UK 43.
As they did in the first two games, the Cats made full use of George Adams. Besides the game-winner, Adams also had two first-half touchdown runs (1 and 6 yards). The senior from Lexington rushed for 139 yards on 31 carries, one short of Sonny Collins' school record for most carries in a game.
In rushing for more than 100 yards for a third straight game, Adams brought his season total to 390 yards.
His three touchdowns gave him seven for the season, only six short of the UK single-season record.
Besides Adams, and a generous pass defense, any other similarity to UK's earlier victories this month were purely coincidental.
The game was riddled by penalties -- in all, 23 of them for 225 yards.