It's worth noting that last season, on the road to a bowl bid, it was this same Kentucky crew that crushed Vandy's postseason pinings. For all that Kentucky has not been able to do in recent years, the Cats have usually turned back Vanderbilt. On Saturday, then, the Dores had a chance to exact a measure of revenge while also giving even more meaning to their already-huge finale against the enemy from Knoxville. And when Chris Nickson ran into the end zone with 57 seconds left in the third quarter, Vandy had a 20-17 lead and all the momentum in the world. Another Saturday with a clutch fourth quarter--much like the triumphant one against Georgia, the poised one against Duke, and the courageous one against Florida--would have landed the Dores in the winner's circle.
But in an all-too-familiar scenario that has constantly hung over this program like a cartoon rain cloud, the Dores couldn't close the door on an opponent when victory was there for the taking.
What will hurt in the locker room--and on the sad sojourn back to Nashville tonight--is not the fact that Kentucky won so much as the way the Cats won. The Dores, once they attained the lead, didn't make the boys in blue fight very hard to regain the advantage they lost in a third quarter dominated by VU. It took less than three minutes for Kentucky to snare a 24-20 lead after Nickson's touchdown, and after the next exchange of possessions, that lead quickly became 31-20. It mushroomed to 38-20 before a cosmetic score by Earl Bennett reduced the final margin.
It would have been one thing to lose a tough 24-23 ballgame after a ferocious football fistfight in the fourth. But the Dores got knocked down precisely when they had gained hard-earned leverage in a third quarter where they competed so vigorously. It was bizarre and baffling in an immediate sense, but on a much larger historical level, this is the kind of sequence that has been all too common in the life of Vanderbilt football.
Next week, the Children of the Checkerboard come to Nashville for Vandy's season finale. Hopefully, the sight of the hated rival will give Bobby Johnson's team the strength to not only fight, compete and stay close for three quarters, but to find that elusive finishing kick when the final fifteen minutes confront them.