Mark Story

Mark Story: UK football's greatest wins at Commonwealth

Fans and players celebrated with the Governor's Cup trophy as the University of Kentucky beat in-state rival Louisville 40-34 at Commonwealth Stadium in 2007. It was Rich Brooks' first win over U of L. The Cardinals haven't beaten the Wildcats since.
Fans and players celebrated with the Governor's Cup trophy as the University of Kentucky beat in-state rival Louisville 40-34 at Commonwealth Stadium in 2007. It was Rich Brooks' first win over U of L. The Cardinals haven't beaten the Wildcats since.

There has long been a school of thought that Commonwealth Stadium is cursed.

How else does one explain LSU's Bluegrass Miracle (2002), how Kentucky could intercept seven passes in one game (1993) yet still lose to Florida or the agonizing moment when Tennessee blocked UK's potential game-winning field goal in overtime two in 2007?

Yet for all the heartache The Long-Suffering Kentucky Football Fans have endured inside Commonwealth since it opened in 1973, don't lose sight of something else:

Some of the most exhilarating moments in University of Kentucky sports history have also taken place inside the 39-year-old stadium. In Commonwealth, Kentucky has beaten 13 ranked teams — four top-10 foes, including one No. 1 team. The Cats have bested Penn State, Clemson, West Virginia and Virginia Tech and UK has beaten every one of their Southeastern Conference foes except for one (hint: that school is the defending BCS national champion).

On the week when Joker Phillips and the Wildcats will launch another home season when Central Michigan visits Saturday, here are the 10 greatest UK wins in Commonwealth Stadium — moments which prove Kentucky's football "house" isn't always haunted.10) 1986: UK 10, Florida 3

The setup: Jerry Claiborne's Cats had a disappointing 4-4-1 record heading into their final home game against Coach Galen Hall's Gators.

The heroes: In his final home game, Kentucky quarterback Bill Ransdell completed 20 of 23 passes (161 yards) with no interceptions. Running back Mark Higgs scored the game's only touchdown on a 1-yard plunge. With Florida driving late, UK defensive back Tony Mayes knocked the ball loose from Gators wide receiver Ricky Nattiel and fell on it to seal victory.

Quote: Jerry Claiborne: "I'm as excited as I can be over how we played."

Lasting significance: Still the most recent time Kentucky beat Florida in football.

9 ) 1 981: UK 2 1, Tennessee 1 0

The setup: After four straight losing seasons filled with off-the-field player disciplinary issues, everyone knew this was going to be Fran Curci's final game as Wildcats head coach. On the field before the game as UT head man Johnny Majors pondered what to say to Curci, the Kentucky coach told him "Johnny, we're going to kick your a-- today."

The heroes: Quarterback Randy Jenkins rallied Kentucky from a 10-0 deficit by throwing for 141 yards and two TDs. Wide receiver Rick Massie caught four passes for 106 yards and a score. Linebacker Kevin McClelland (11 tackles) led a UK defense that held Tennessee 48 yards of second-half offense.

Quote: Fran Curci: "This was destined to happen."

Lasting significance: Thirty years later, this remains the last time UK beat UT in Commonwealth.

8 ) 1 988: UK 1 6, No. 1 1 Georgia 1 0

The setup: Kentucky entered having lost eight SEC games in a row, including defeats to Alabama and LSU earlier in the '88 season in which UK blew second-half leads.

The heroes: Georgia product Alfred Rawls ran for 128 yards and a 48-yard touchdown that gave Kentucky the win. Linebacker Randy Holleran (13 tackles) spearheaded a rugged UK defense that held Georgia to 224 total yards.

Quote: Vince Dooley: "Kentucky fought back against their frustrations time and again, to their credit, and they deserve this one."

Lasting significance: At No. 11, Georgia was the highest-ranked team Jerry Claiborne ever beat as Kentucky head coach.

7 ) 2007: UK 40, No. 9 Louisville 34

The setup: U of L had beaten UK four in a row and seven of the prior eight. With both teams coming off bowl victories from the prior season (Louisville Orange; Kentucky Music City) and with each boasting a star quarterback (U of L Brian Brohm; UK Andre Woodson) it was the most hyped game in the modern history of the Governor's Cup rivalry.

The heroes: With UK trailing 34-33, Andre Woodson (275 yards passing; four touchdowns) hit Steve Johnson with a 57-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left to give Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks his first victory over U of L.

Quote: Rich Brooks: "It had more twists and turns than a Dickens novel."

Lasting significance: Louisville has not beaten Kentucky since.

6 ) 1 974: UK 41, No. 9 F lorida 24

The setup: Coach Doug Dickey's Gators had already been invited to the Sugar Bowl. Fran Curci's Wildcats (5-4) needed a win to clinch Kentucky's first winning season since 1965.

The heroes: UK quarterback Mike Fanuzzi ran for 94 yards and helped Kentucky rally back from a 17-6 deficit by outscoring Florida 35-7. The Cats' defense and special teams combined to recover three fumbles, intercept two passes and block two punts.

Quote: Fran Curci: "This was Kentucky's most important win in modern times."

Lasting significance: Was the only UK victory over a Top 10 team in Commonwealth until 2007.

5 ) 1 976: UK 2 2, No. 20 Penn St. 6

The setup: Penn State was the biggest-name non-conference foe ever to come to Commonwealth to that point. A crowd of 57,733, then the largest ever to see a football game in Kentucky, turned out to see if UK (2-1) was for real.

The heroes: Halfback Chris Hill ran for 106 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Derrick Ramsey rumbled for 95 yards and a score. Safety Rick Hayden had two interceptions to help UK hold Penn State to 212 total yards.

Quote: Joe Paterno: "That was a good football team we played. What can you say after you get the devil kicked out of you?"

Lasting significance: Penn State remains the most prestigious non-conference foe UK has ever beaten in Commonwealth.

4 ) 1 997: UK 40, No. 20 Alabama 34 ( OT )

The setup: First-year coach Hal Mumme had invigorated Kentucky football with his pass-happy Air Raid. UK had not beaten Alabama since 1922.

The heroes: In overtime, Tremayne Martin stripped the ball from Alabama receiver Chad Goss and UK's Jeremy Bowie recovered it. Tim Couch (355 yards and four TDs passing) hit Craig Yeast with a 26-yard scoring toss for the win.

Quote: Tim Couch: "This is what I dreamed about when I came here, I dreamed about winning games like this."

Lasting significance: The first overtime game in Kentucky and Commonwealth Stadium history. The first time the goal posts were torn down in Commonwealth. Still the most recent UK victory over 'Bama.

3 ) 2 01 0: UK 31, No. 1 0 South Car olina 28

The setup: Kentucky was 0-17 all-time against Steve Spurrier at Florida and South Carolina.

The heroes: Mike Hartline (32-of-42 for 349 yards and four TDs passing) hit Randall Cobb with a 24-yard scoring toss with 1:15 left to give Kentucky the lead. There were four seconds left when South Carolina-native Cartier Rice deflected a Stephen Garcia pass in the UK end zone and Anthony Mosley intercepted to seal the win.

Quote: Mike Hartline: "We'd never beaten Coach Spurrier. ... To finally put one on them is a great feeling."

Lasting significance: UK's third win over a Top 10 team in Commonwealth in four seasons and first victory against South Carolina in the 21st Century.

2 ) 1 977: UK 2 1, Tennessee 1 7

The setup: Kentucky needed to beat its rival to finish a 10-1 season (UK was on NCAA probation and ineligible for a bowl). The Cats were physically beaten up with seven starters sidelined. UT entered the game having lost five of its prior six.

The heroes: With starting quarterback Derrick Ramsey's shoulder injured so badly he could not throw, Kentucky backup Mike Deaton entered the game with UK trailing 17-14 in the fourth quarter. Deaton hit Felix Wilson with a momentum-changing 36-yard bomb, then Ramsey returned to engineer a touchdown drive. Tennessee's final march reached the UK 22, but All-America defensive end Art Still forced Vols quarterback Jimmy Streater to fumble and UK linebacker Kelly Kirchbaum recovered.

Quote: Kelly Kirchbaum: "A 9-2 record wouldn't have meant a thing. We had to have the 10-1 record."

Lasting significance: Rallying to beat Tennessee to finish a 10-1 season reigned as the greatest UK win ever in Commonwealth for 30 years.

1 ) 2007: UK 43, No. 1 LSU 37 ( 3ot )

The setup: Kentucky entered its matchup against the national championship favorites having already beaten No. 9 Louisville and having won at defending SEC West champ Arkansas.

The heroes: Lones Seiber hit a pressure-packed 43-yard field goal in the second overtime to extend the game. In the third OT, Andre Woodson (21-38-250 with three TDs passing) hit a falling Steve Johnson (seven receptions, 134 yards) in the end zone for a 43-37 lead. With LSU facing a 4th-and-2 at the 18, UK linebacker Braxton Kelley stoned running back Charles Scott short of the first-down marker.

Quote: Jacob Tamme: "We know we can compete, blow for blow, with any team in the country. We showed everybody else tonight."

Lasting significance: The most recent of three times Kentucky has knocked off a No. 1 team, the win's luster grew after LSU went on to claim the BCS national title.

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