Mark Story

Mark Story: Hartline gets knocked down, ends up on top

Quarterback Mike Hartline (5) completed 32 of 42 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns in Kentucky's victory.
Quarterback Mike Hartline (5) completed 32 of 42 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns in Kentucky's victory.

A year ago, South Carolina knocked Mike Hartline out of the game and — for all intents — out of his junior season.

One year later, Hartline extracted an exquisite revenge.

Doing what no UK QB — not Tim Couch, not Jared Lorenzen, not Andre Woodson — had ever done, Hartline had a career night and Kentucky at long, long, long last hung an L on Steve Spurrier.

Say it loud and say it proud: UK 31, Spurri, uh, No. 10 South Carolina 28.

"This is sweet because we hadn't beaten Coach Spurrier in a long time," Hartline said amid a jubilant Kentucky post-game interview session.

A long time? More like never.

"Right. We'd never beaten Coach Spurrier," Hartline said with a grin. "We'd come so close. To finally put one on them is just a great feeling."

Playing exquisite football against a Top 10 team for the second week in a row, Hartline was a major reason that UK is now 1-17 all-time against the Head Ball Coach.

Standing in against a fierce Gamecocks pass rush, Hartline completed 32 of 42 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns.

The final Hartline pass of the evening will live forever in UK sports lore.

With the Wildcats trailing 28-23 with less than 1:30 left in the game, UK faced a fourth-and-7 from the Carolina 24.

Under a heavy rush (again), Hartline says he never saw his intended receiver, Randall Cobb.

"I didn't see if he was covered, but I knew where he was going to be in the route," Hartline said. "I figured I'd just throw it out there and, even if he was covered, give Randall a chance to make a play. It turns out, he wasn't covered."

A shockingly open Cobb took Hartline's pass and romped into the end zone with 1:15 left, then ran in a two-point conversion try.

It took a pass breakup by Cartier Rice that led to an Anthony Mosely interception in the UK end zone with four seconds left, but a Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 67,955 was soon savoring one of the sweetest wins in school history.

A week previous, against Auburn, Hartline played what had generally been considered the best game of his Kentucky career, completing 23 of 28 passes against the No. 8 team in the country.

If anything, this performance against South Carolina was even more impressive because he was under so much duress. Coming into the game, UK had allowed only three sacks all season. South Carolina had that many last night.

Even when Hartline wasn't sacked, he was often hit milliseconds after the ball left his hand.

"He could have easily given up, said 'Man, I'm getting hit too much," Kentucky wide receiver La'Rod King said. "But he just kept getting back up."

Getting back up and making plays.

"He made big-time throws with people in his face," Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said of Hartline. "He got hit a lot — really this is the first time all year he's been hit like that — and he just kept getting up and making throws."

An effective receiving corps makes a successful quarterback and Hartline got big plays all night from his three main wideouts.

Senior Chris Matthews was splendid, hauling in 12 passes for 177 yards. Sophomore King caught four balls, two that went for touchdowns.

Cobb seemed to get more effective as the game went along, and ended it by scoring the fifth game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown of his Kentucky career.

After two years when a youthful UK receiving corps struggled, Cobb says it is finally getting to play with accomplished playmakers at receiver that has allowed Hartline to blossom as a senior.

"Mike's the best quarterback I've ever been around," Cobb said. "He's finally got players around him that allows him to show what he can do."

For the first two years after he inherited the UK quarterback job after Woodson graduated and the heir apparent, Curtis Pulley, self-destructed, Hartline was a favored whipping boy for a percentage of the Kentucky fan base.

If they're honest, a whole lot of people owe him an apology.

Saturday night in Commonwealth Stadium, against the team that knocked him out of last season with a knee injury, Hartline delivered one of the most significant wins in modern Kentucky history.

Two years ago, who'd have thought Mike Hartline would be the UK QB to finally take down the Head Ball Coach.

"You couldn't have written it any better," Hartline said. "Like a dream."