On a gloriously sun-kissed, southern Saturday afternoon filled with fumbles, bumbles, and a bit of timely acting, the Kentucky football team, led by tailback George Adams, sent 93,000 plus UT fans home to a turkey not quite as tender, and a pumpkin pie less than sweet. But more importantly, the improbable Kentucky victory left Rocky Top sounding more like the sweet Sounds of Silence.
Kentucky's victory gives them eight wins on the season, and after the disheartening loss to #5 Florida last week, it enables UK to prepare for a probable Hall of Fame Bowl invitation in a positive state of mind.
The theatrics began early. On Tennessee's first possession, and very first play, UK's David Thompson caused Tennessee's Charles Wilson to fumble on the UT 30-yard line. This rather fortuitous turn of events led to George Adams bulling his way through from the two-yard line for UK's first score of the day: Good Guys - 7 Orange Guys - 0.
After a pair of Fuad Reveiz field goals (which extended his record-setting streak to 18 straight made field goal attempts), and another George Adam's touchdown (which set a new UK record for most rushing touchdowns in a season), half-time found UK up 14-6.
Kentucky punter Paul Calhoun and the Wildcat defense starred in the second half.
Tennessee quarterback Tony Robinson had his way with UK's secondary in the first half; Robinson had time aplenty to zone in on his speedy receivers, because the Vol offensive line consistently gained ground on UK's D-line -- Robinson experienced no pressure. That all changed in the second half. After a half-time defensive adjustment, UK's D-line harassed the UT signal-caller for the rest of the delightful afternoon. He was sacked four times and 'hurried' countless others.
Tennessee did manage an early fourth quarter touchdown, but Robinson was stopped outside of the end zone on UT's two-point conversion attempt, keeping the score at 14-12. While a big play at the time, no one realized it was UK's game clinching play.
UK and UT traded scoreless possessions for the remainder of the fourth quarter, until, with five minutes remaining in the game, and Kentucky clinging to a slim two point lead, the 'Cats were stopped on third down. Facing a fourth and long, coach Jerry Claiborne decided to punt away.
Paul Calhoun could see the Vols coming. As he received the snap, the Kentucky punter knew he had to deliver the ball into the atmosphere quickly, or disaster would ensue. As Calhoun swiftly booted the pigskin skyward, UT linebacker Reggie McKenzie landed squarely on Calhoun's plant foot, a second later his kicking leg came crashing down atop McKenzie's hand. Down Calhoun went. Out came the penalty flag, and onward marched UK.
Calhoun admitted that the 'hit' wasn't fall inducing, but we all appreciate his gamesmanship.
The resulting roughing-the-kicker penalty gave the 'Cats the ball on UT's 47-yard line. From that point on it was all about George Adams and Mark Higgs. The 'Cats smartly kept the ball on the ground, eating up precious clock.
Facing fourth down on the 16-yard line, Claiborne sent in the always reliable Joey Worley to kick a 33-yard field goal: Good Guys - 17 Orange Guys - 12. Less than three minutes remained.
As good as UK's defense was in the second half, Tony Robinson was better in the final few minutes. Starting from their own 11-yard line (with no timeouts), the Tennessee quarterback, along with stud receiver Tim McGee, began the march to victory. I write 'march to victory,' because that's surely what it looked like to me.
UK had the Vols seemingly stopped three different times, but instead, Tennessee converted three fourth down attempts to keep Rocky Top's impossible dream alive -- it seemed as if the gods were conspiring against the good guys. Reinforcing my feeling of doom, and with less than 15 ticks left on the clock, Robinson hit a streaking McGee with a 32-yard strike. He made it to UK's 12-yard line, but McGee couldn't get out-of-bounds. As the UT lineman struggled up the field, doing their best to beat the clock, Kentucky fans everywhere were doing their best NASA countdown impression ... 10 ... 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... 6 ... 5 ... Robinson took the snap with four seconds remaining. He immediately threw the ball out-of-bounds, but the clock read 00:00 (I'll give 10-1 odds there is a new time-keeper at Neyland next year): Good Guys - 17 'Burnt' Orange - 12!
Jerry Claiborne was carried off the field on the shoulders of his victorious warriors. Neyland was stunned ... Rocky Top was pleasingly mute.
This victory is filled with several scenarios, which if played out differently, could have resulted in Kentucky's fourth loss of the year: Reveiz missing his first field goal in 19 tries, the roughing-the-kicker penalty which sustained a field goal producing drive for UK, and finally, Robinson being stopped on his two-point conversion attempt. All of those events ensured that UT needed a touchdown to win, instead of merely a 29-yard field goal to tie.
What the 'W' means
This victory was sweet on many fronts: It gave Kentucky eight victories for the first time since 1977, and only the third time since 1951. It guarantees UK a second straight bowl appearance, and it announces to the SEC that Kentucky football is back, only two seasons removed from an 0-10-1 campaign.
Jerry Claiborne has this program moving in the right direction, finally moving out of the relentlessly depressing shadow cast by the chaos of the Fran Curci administration. With the return next year of sophomore quarterback Bill Ransdell, freshman running backs Mark Higgs and Marc Logan, and the abundance of talent on the defensive side of the ball, one shouldn't be surprised if beating the Vols becomes a happy habit.
Congratulations to all of the 'Cats on an inspiring victory.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats ... relive history!
EDITOR'S NOTE: This 'reconstruction' would not have been possible without the information provided by Jerry Tipton's original column, published on November 25, 1984, in the Lexington Herald-Leader.