Mark Story

Cats fortunate that history doesn't repeat itself

Dicky Lyons Jr. had just watched Kentucky come achingly close to reliving the most spectacularly bad moment in UK's star-crossed football history.

In a play eerily reminiscent of Louisiana State's 2002 Bluegrass Miracle, Middle Tennessee State's Eldred King caught a tipped Hail Mary pass behind the UK defense with his team down six and the final seconds ticking off the Commonwealth Stadium clock.

Inside the stadium, 68,612 shellshocked people were saying in unison, this CANNOT be happening again.

From the UK sideline, quarterback Mike Hartline said he "could feel my heart falling out of my stomach."

On the field, Kentucky defensive end Jeremy Jarmon watched the play unfold in disbelief. "I couldn't believe it," he said.

When all seemed lost, a Kentucky reserve defensive back, Robbie McAtee, got a hold on King's ankle from behind and would not let go.

McAtee wrested King to the ground from behind — 1 yard short of the end zone, 1 yard short of another Cat-astrophe.

"There is a reason I was slow coming in here," Lyons told reporters in the post-game interview room. "I had to change my pants."

It ended Kentucky 20, Middle Tennessee 14.

UK got its third victory of the year on a muggy evening when Rich Brooks and Co. seemed to do everything they could to give away a game they almost had to win to preserve realistic chances for a third straight winning year.

Brooks blistered his team last week for lax practice habits and then got the kind of lackluster game performance he had feared.

"Maybe now you understand why I got so upset about practice," Brooks said. "We didn't get a lot better this week."

Of course, the Kentucky players had some reason to be unhappy with their coach.

Middle Tennessee almost certainly would not have been close enough to the UK goal line to heave a desperation pass had it not been for a curious bit of Brooks game mismanagement.

One reason Kentucky was fighting for its life against its visitors from the Sun Belt Conference was because place-kicker Lones Seiber was having a lost evening.

Ever erratic, the junior from Knoxville hit his first field goal of the night, missed three straight, then hit a 25-yarder.

So it seemed curious in the extreme when, with UK clinging to a 20-14 lead facing fourth-and-4 at the Middle 15 with only 20 seconds left to play, Brooks sent Seiber out to try a sixth field goal.

Even if UK had not gotten a first down, had Kentucky just run up the middle, it presumably could have taken five, six seconds off the clock.

That would have left Middle with only 15 seconds or so to play, no timeouts and needing to go some 85 yards to win.

"I thought we could make it, but you can call me an idiot because we got it blocked and they almost scooped and scored."

I'm not going to call a coach who has now won 16 of his last 22 games at Kentucky any names — but I do think it was the wrong call and imperiled a game UK had essentially won.

Even after MTSU got a holding penalty on its return of Seiber's blocked kick, it left the Blue Raiders with the ball at their 38 and eight seconds.

Of course, Brooks' decision set up another woolly Commonwealth Stadium ending that will be talked about forever.

Afterward, in his clean pants, Lyons wanted to make a point.

"This is the sign that it is a New Kentucky," he said. "Six years ago, LSU made that play. Five or six years ago, after that kick got blocked, it would have probably been run back for a touchdown.

"Now, guys are making plays. Even after we messed up, Robbie stepped up and made the play."

Said Brooks: "Thank God Robbie McAtee got that guy to the ground."

At the end of a zany final 20 seconds, the best you can say is an Old Kentucky scenario yielded a New Kentucky result.