Hopewell lends a hand on Abney's record return

October 26, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

LEXINGTON - Derek Abney's record-setting punt return wouldn't have been possible without a little help from his friends.

Abney returned a punt 80 yards for the touchdown that gave Kentucky the lead and gave him a share of an NCAA record.

It was his first return for a touchdown this season and his eighth career kick return for a score, which ties an NCAA record. He also broke the Southeastern Conference record with his fifth career punt return touchdown.

A series of good blocks left Abney in the clear until he neared the 10-yard line, where teammate Earven Flowers had wrapped up the last potential tackler, Mississippi State's David Heard.


Abney got tangled up with the two of them, then tried to force his way into the end zone. They were near the 5 when Andrew Hopewell arrived.

Hopewell, a Danville High School graduate and one of UK's top special teams players, said he could tell Abney could use a little help.

"I could see where he was starting to fall," Hopewell said. "I don't think he was going to make it. I got behind him and tried to grab his shoulder pads and help him in there."

Hopewell started pushing on the pile, and he was quickly followed by Alexis Bwenge and Maurice Marchman. The momentum of all of them carried Abney across the goal line and into a pile of giddy teammates.

"He didn't look like he would get into the end zone, and he just refused to go down," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "He willed himself in - with maybe a little help from Hopewell."

Abney earned the six points, but said Flowers and Hopewell should be credited with two each.

"It was definitely a group effort," Abney said.

Numbers: Abney's 53-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter was the 18th of his career, putting him ahead of Steve Meilinger into second on Kentucky's all-time list. ... Kentucky held its seventh consecutive opponent under 30 points, its longest such streak since 1988-89, and held Mississippi State's Justin Jenkins, the SEC's leading receiver, to three receptions for 30 yards. ... Ronald Johnson and Monquantae Gibson each rushed for their first career touchdowns.

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