Vaught's Views: The clock strikes twelve

November 03, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Nothing can come easy for this University of Kentucky football team.

This is team that has had three head coaches in the last four years. This is the team that lost that heartbreaking game to LSU on a the game's final play last year. This is the team that blew a 21-3 lead over Florida this year and lost.

This is the team that also looked awful for most of the first half Saturday night and was lucky to trail Arkansas only 21-7.

But this is also the team that staged a dramatic second-half rally thanks to a return to form by quarterback Jared Lorenzen, an inspired defense and some Arkansas miscues before losing 71-63 in seven overtimes in one of the most memorable games ever played at Commonwealth Stadium.


The game, which produced over 1,100 yards of total offense, had so many ups and downs that the crowd had to be as emotionally and physically drained as the players who battled valiantly for almost five hours. Many players on both sides left the field with tears streaming down their face and bodies that would barely move.

The game had a list of offensive stars from Lorenzen (326 yards passing, three rushing touchdowns) to Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones (260 yards passing, 112 yards rushing) to UK receiver Derek Abney (10 catches for 91 yards) to Arkansas receiver George Wilson (nine catches for 172 yards) to UK running back Alexis Bwenge (89 yards rushing, two touchdowns) to Arkansas back Corey Birmingham (196 yards rushing, two touchdowns).

"Nothing like being on the wrong side of tying an NCAA record," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "How we do it doesn't matter. It's an 'L.'"

"I thought our team made a great comeback and started making some plays. We go in at halftime and came out and started playing better. We had several chances to win the game and couldn't finish it.

"We didn't have an answer for Jones. He just kept coming up with clutch plays, as our guys did. Jared, Alexis, our receivers. They all did a good job. It was just a tough one to lose.

The two teams just kept trading scores in overtime after the Wildcats tied the score at 24-24 with 1:24 left in period four on a 13-yard pass from Lorenzen to Chris Bernard.

Finally, it came down to a fourth down-and-2 play for Kentucky at the 5-yard line. Arkansas had scored and added the two-point conversion to open overtime seven, and Kentucky had to at least get a first down to prolong the game. Lorenzen kept the ball but was stopped less than a yard short of the first down.

"It was the same play he had scored on earlier, and we felt we could get that," Brooks said.

The Cats knew they desperately needed to win this game to enhance their chances of earning a bowl bid. Perhaps that's why they showed the same refuse-to-lose attitude again that they had the game before when they overcame a 17-0 deficit to beat Mississippi State. However, Kentucky couldn't make a needed defensive stop in overtime or get the final score it had to have to keep the game going.

There certainly was nothing new for Arkansas about being in overtime. In the last four seasons, they had played four road overtime games and had won 34-31 in two overtimes at Alabama this year. They also had a seven-overtime win over Mississippi in 2001 and a six-overtime game with Tennessee last year.

This was Kentucky's third overtime experience, and its third overtime loss, as the curse of bitter UK defeats continued.

In a game that ended up full of big plays, Kentucky's biggest play in the first half came from a surprising source - sophomore walk-on Andrew Hopewell. The former Danville High School standout blocked Arkansas punter Jacob Skinner's kick at the 14-yard line late in period one, picked it up six yards from the end zone and kept his balance long enough to score.

He used a similar tactic to the one he did two weeks ago against Ohio University when he deflected a punt. He faked outside, came inside and had a clear path to the punter to make a play it looked like might change the momentum in Kentucky's favor by tying the score at 7-7.

However, an ineffective Lorenzen made it impossible for the Kentucky offense to have any consistency in the first half. He consistently threw either short or behind open receivers.

When he did finally get the Cats in scoring position, he threw an interception on a first down play from the 6-yard line that enabled Arkansas to keep a 21-7 halftime advantage. He was only 9-for-17 passing for 67 yards even though the Cats operated primarily out of the spread formation with three or four receivers that he likes so much.

But did he ever redeem himself with a second-half effort that should end any questions about his stamina and heart because he did everything humanly possible to win the game for the Wildcats. He completed passes. He avoided rushing linemen. He ran. He encouraged.

"He was not very accurate early. Then he came alive and threw the ball very well and made some huge plays down the stretch," Brooks said. "We had ample opportunities to win, but just came up short."

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