Cats' loss just the latest heartbreak

September 28, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

LEXINGTON - You've seen it all before, you say.

You have seen so many instances in which Kentucky has been on the verge of a season-saving upset, only to see it slip away through a series of bizarre bounces or inexplicable errors.

The litany of gut-wrenching losses is such that the mere mention of any of a number of games - Clemson in the 1993 Peach Bowl, for example - triggers its own anguishing mental highlight reel.

You saw it again Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, when Kentucky surrendered a 21-3 lead in the fourth quarter and lost 24-21 to No. 25 Florida.


"It's difficult," Kentucky's Derek Abney said. "The hardest part is, I've heard a million times, 'Keep your head up. It's a great effort.' It hurts to keep hearing that."

That was evident in Abney's face as he tried to express his thoughts in the interview room. The first time a horde of reporters circled him, his voice started cracking almost as soon as he started talking.

"I've got no answers. It just hurts," he said before walking away to compose himself. "I just came here to be a part of something."

It most assuredly wasn't this, but losses like this have become part of the legacy of Kentucky football. The supposed curse, which is well into its third decade, has transcended coaches from Claiborne and Curry to Mumme and Morriss and now Rich Brooks, who understandably wants no part of it.

"There's nothing jinxed about the game today. We just didn't make the plays when we needed to make them," Brooks said. "I don't buy into this woe is me, woe is Kentucky syndrome. I don't buy that one iota."

But Abney just might. He wasn't talking about jinxes, but he was talking about a pattern that has repeated itself more times than he cares to remember.

"It's not just one, it's all of them," he said through his tears.

"One of these, two of these, three things like that you can handle. It's a funny thing. I guess you've got to say to yourself, 'This is the worst; it can only get better."

Players, coaches and fans said the same thing the last time it happened, when Kentucky was burned by LSU on a 75-yard "Hail Mary" play on the last play of a game last November.

Sometimes the Wildcats are victimized by a freak play, sometimes by their own mistakes, as was the case Saturday.

The first mistake was a senseless penalty for having 12 men on the field that nullified a Florida punt late in the third quarter and allowed the Gators to resume a drive that resulted in their first touchdown.

Later, when Kentucky was clinging to a 21-16 lead, came an ill-advised pass by Jared Lorenzen that was intercepted by Florida's Johnny Lamar and returned 35 yards to the Wildcats' 1-yard line to set up the Gators' go-ahead touchdown.

Two Florida defenders were hanging on Lorenzen when he flung the ball in hopes of merely throwing it away rather than take a sack.

Still, Abney wasn't willing to lay the blame on the shoulders of his friend and quarterback.

"He's been through what I've been through," Abney said. "He wants it as bad as me, if not more. I want him back there. It wasn't about him throwing that."

The Wildcats last chance to avoid a heartbreaking loss came when they drove to the Florida 31 to set up a 49-yard attempt by Taylor Begley, but his kick was far short of the mark.

"That was one of Begley's poorer efforts," Brooks said. "He didn't get a good foot on the ball. We had the wind at our back, and that was going to get us into an overtime situation."

But Brooks said Kentucky made other, less visible mistakes early in the game that might have made a difference. For instance, an Abney punt return for a touchdown was wiped out by a holding penalty well away from the ball.

The Wildcats showed both progress and promise in this game, particularly in the way their dominated Florida in the first half and in the improvement displayed by their rushing attack, which netted 175 yards.

"I think they understand that we made a lot of progress today, and unfortunately we let a pretty good lead slip away," Brooks said.

And that's the part that's so familiar - and so hard for the Wildcats to live with.

"I think everybody on the team and everybody in the stands thought we had this one," defensive end Jeremy Caudill said. "I don't know what to say about it. It sucks."

Mike Marsee can be reached at

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