Date story published: Sunday, November 04, 2001
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- It's as if the Kentucky football season has turned into a broken record, a record that could aptly be titled "Big Blue Heartache."
For the third consecutive week Guy Morriss's Wildcats showed enough grit and moxie to walk away with a much-needed victory. And for the third consecutive week, they walked off the field with nothing to show for it.
Kentucky had control of Mississippi State for three quarters and took a 14-7 lead into the final period before watching the Bulldogs score the game's final 10 points to eke out a 17-14 win before 41,433 fans at Scott Field.
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A win would have been a landmark in a couple of ways. It would have ended the Wildcats' 14-game Southeastern Conference losing streak in addition to their eight-game road losing streak. And it also could have given the Cats some momentum heading into their final three games.
Instead the Cats fell to 1-7 and 0-6 in the SEC and must once again regroup and get ready for next Saturday's game at Vanderbilt.
You could sense the frustration outside the Kentucky locker room afterward.
"It seems like it's the same story every week," defensive end Dennis Johnson said. "Somewhere down the road it's going to change; we just don't know when."
The Cats' fate was decided by several key plays in the fourth quarter, the most crucial being a 76-yard pass completion from MSU backup quarterback Kevin Fant to Justin Jenkins to the Wildcats' 4-yard line.
That set up Dontae Walker's go-ahead touchdown run with 7:31 remaining that put State up 17-14.
Kentucky twice got into scoring range after Walker's run, but those drives were stalled by penalties, errors and a heads-up play by Bulldogs cornerback Korey Banks.
The first chance came when kicker Seth Hanson lined up for what would have been a game-tying 29-yard field goal with 4:19 remaining, but the usually reliable kicker shot it wide left.
"My plant foot was a little too close and it just ended up pushing it," Hanson said. "This was the first field goal I've missed in the fourth quarter in my career here, and you never like it when you do that."
The UK defense gave quarterback Jared Lorenzen and the Wildcat offense another chance by forcing Mississippi State to punt with 2:23 remaining. And when Lorenzen completed four straight passes to give Kentucky a first-and-10 at the MSU 44 with a minute remaining, the Cats seemed to be in business.
In fact, Kentucky seemed to be on the verge of taking the lead on the very next play when Banks bit on a stop-and-go route by Derek Abney. But before the 5-foot-10, 171-pound junior could streak downfield, Banks slammed him to the ground and drew a pass interference penalty that turned a potential go-ahead score into first-and-10 at the MSU 31.
"It's probably a touchdown if (Banks) doesn't do that, so it was a good play on his part," Morriss said.
From there the Cats started moving backward. MSU safety Shawn Byrdsong was credited for a sack on Lorenzen back at the Bulldog 42, even though Lorenzen was standing upright and in the process of dumping the ball off to Derek Smith.
Lorenzen then threw incomplete to Abney on second down, and a 15-yard completion to Abney on third-and-21 was negated by a holding penalty. That was followed by another incompletion and a delay-of-game penalty that pushed UK all the way back to its own 48 with just 13 seconds left. A desperation hook-and-ladder play with Abney and Martez Johnson netted just nine yards on fourth-and-36.
The UK defense was stout early. The two squads were locked in a scoreless tie early in the second quarter when a David Johnson interception and return to the Bulldogs 24 set up the lone score of the first half, a 14-yard TD pass from Lorenzen to Aaron Boone.
And while Kentucky had only 108 yards of offense in the first two quarters, the defense held State to just 138 yards of its own.
But State came out and set the tone for the second half when it turned the opening drive into a 13-play, 80-yard plow job that took more than seven minutes off the clock. The Bulldogs did most of that damage on the ground but got into the end zone on a 9-yard pass from Fant, who took over for an ineffective Wayne Madkin, to receiver Jenkins with 7:47 left in the third.
MSU running backs Dicenzo Miller and Walker combined for 69 rushing yards on that drive. Miller finished with a game-high 131 yards on 26 carries.
"We knew they were going to make a hard run at us and try to shove it down our throats and that's pretty much what they did," Morriss said.
"It seemed like that drive gave them the momentum," Dennis Johnson said.
"That's always the most important drive of the whole ball game, the first one of the second half," UK defensive coordinator John Goodner said.
UK did answer, though, taking a 14-10 lead when Lorenzen found Ernest Simms streaking out of the slot for a 38-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats back on top 14-7 with 1:09 left in the third.
It was about that time that everything started going against the Cats. On fourth-and-9 from the MSU 42, Lorenzen pooched a perfect punt that Tommy Cook had a chance to field at the Bulldogs 1. But Cook slipped and fell, and the ball skidded into the end zone.
With more breathing room at his own 20, Fant then play-faked and found Jenkins one-on-one downfield with cornerback Jeremy Bowie, and the speedy receiver turned Bowie completely around before being taken down at the UK 4, setting up Walker's game-winner.
Goodner said he had called for double-coverage most of the afternoon but added that the defense was in man-to-man on the 76-yard play.
"That's a call that I made that left that kid out there by himself, and I take responsibility for that," Goodner said.
And while Goodner was pleased with the overall effort of his defense, he seemed disappointed that when push came to shove, the Bulldogs were able to get what they needed for the win.
"It's that same old thing," he said. "We've just got to make plays when they count, and we just can't seem to come and make a play when it counts.
"Playing hard is one thing. But you've got to win somewhere along the road, and those kids want to win awful bad."
Abney is a prime example. Despite catching a career-high 12 passes for 123 yards, he was just as dumbfounded as everybody else about the Wildcats' fortunes.
"We've been playing hard, been playing our guts out, and we just can't finish," Abney said. "I don't know what to do. I have no answers. It's frustrating."