The Cats were on the verge of the unthinkable — losing to Central Michigan at home. Kentucky was trailing 13-6, had just 114 yards of total offense and had missed scoring opportunities again when the Chippewas went for fourth down at their own 35-yard line midway of the third period. Granted, Central Michigan needed only inches, but the safe and smart play would have been to punt the ball away to a UK?offense that had done nothing in the second half on two possessions.
Instead, the Chippewas flaunted their confidence, went for the first down and got stuffed. Suddenly, all the pressure that had seemed to overwhelm Phillips' team went away. Quarterback Morgan Newton threw a 34-yard touchdown strike to LaRod King on the next play to tie the game and then freshman Josh Clemons, UK's next big-time star, had a memorable 87-yard touchdown run — the fourth longest in UK?history — to turn what had been a 13-6 deficit into a 20-13 lead.
It breathed life into not only the UK?offense, but everyone at Commonwealth Stadium. The Cats went from a team with an uncertain future to a team with a 27-13 win going into its next game against Louisville, a team it now certainly has to feel it should beat.
"They say there is no such thing as an ugly loss, but we just had another not so pretty win," admitted Phillips. "We are 2-0. We found a way to win this one. I think the turning point was the fourth down. Our guys did a good job on fourth and an inch. Then our offense did a good job converting."
Defensive tackle Donte Rumph was not in the game on that fourth-down stop made by Collins Ukwu and Winston Guy. However, he knew how big the play was.
"They are known as a running team and we thought they might go for it. We just had to stop them, and we did," Rumph said. "That changed the game. It was a momentum-setter because after that our offense played like we know it can."
Kentucky had 114 yards and no touchdowns when the Central Michigan gambled failed. In the game's last 20 minutes after that play, Kentucky had 230 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, I would call that play a momentum-setter.
"Nothing surprises me," Phillips, who passed up a fourth-down gamble in the first half when UK missed a field goal, said of Central Michigan's decision. "You have got to be ready for the next play. Our defense did a good job stopping the play and giving us a chance. Our offense had struggled, but the energy the defense created on fourth down, that fed into our offense."
It breathed life into an offense and team that was ready for a 911 call based on what had happened until then.
Central Michigan opened the game with a seven-minute drive that resulted in a field goal and then marched 80 yards for a touchdown on its second series. The Chippewas had 146 total yards in the first quarter to 27 for UK. Central Michigan scored on its first three possessions.
Matt Roark, who had two drops in the opening game, got free behind the secondary and Newton threw a perfect pass over two defenders — but Roark dropped the ball as he hit the ground. LaRod King dropped a slant pass — he had a drop in the first game, too — and even his 46-yard reception should have been incomplete because the ball hit the ground. n The defense, which was so good against Western, missed way too many tackles in the first half and let Central Michigan average 5.1 yards per play in the first half. n The offense was so inept that after Danny Trevathan's interception and return to the Central Michigan 11-yard line, it couldn't score. Newton overthrew an open King at the back of the end zone and Phillips didn't care to gamble on fourth down, a move that looked even worse when kicker Craig McIntosh banged a 24-yard field goal try off the upright. The next series, still trailing 13-6, UK got the ball at the Central Michigan 47 but had that drive thwarted when Newton had a pass picked off at the one-yard line. n To open the second half, Raymond Sanders found a small hole on the kickoff return, but forgot one thing — to keep the football. His fumble gave the Chippewas the ball at the Kentucky 40-yard line. But just when it looked like a victory Kentucky certainly had to have to even continue thinking about a winning season or bowl bid was going to slip away, Central Michigan coach Dan Enos made a decision he has to regret because it turned out to be one that could have saved UK's season.