IT'S OVER! Vandy-Kentucky, As It Happened

LEXINGTON- 0:00, fourth quarter: Let it be known, for future generations of Vandy kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, that you were watching, at 10:23 p.m. Central Standard Time on November 15, 2008, when the Commodores punched their ticket to a bowl game after a drought that lasted longer than a quarter century.

12:54 remaining, first quarter: This is a good start. This is what VU football looks like at its best. Can the boys finish this drive?

12:08: Chris Nickson, you have to go all-out for the first down. When you hesitate, you're through. GO FOR THAT MARKER! HUNGER! WANT IT MORE!

11:26: Jared Hawkins acting like HE wants this game badly! There we go! First dooowwwwnnnnnn!

10:54: Nickson much more decisive as he dashes for nine yards. Couldn't have drawn up this drive any better.

10:20: UNTIL THEN. Nickson bobbles a perfect shotgun snap to bring up a third-and-5. Good grief. (Why use shotgun in short yardage?) Safe to say, that's a "same ole Vandy" type of play. Can't have them the rest of this season.

9:37: Sure looked as though Nickson had a good running lane to the left, and he throws an incompletion. Gotta send out Hahnfeldt, right? Kick early, go for it late. Well, they're going for it, instead of trying a 43-yarder into the wind. Perhaps the odds are low, but you'll probably need a clutch kick before this is over, so I'd take a chance on my kicker in the first quarter and have him test the cold conditions in Lexington. Timeout, Commodores.

9:31: In the spirit of college basketball season, there's a dish of sautéed Bill Raftery-style "ONIONS!" Nickson throws a perfect pass to D.J. Moore near the pylon for a massive, MASSIVE touchdown. Bobby Johnson 1, your incorrect sportswriter 0. More importantly, Vandy 7, Kentucky 0. There's "Moore" of what you're looking for, Vandy fans!

9:15: HUGE STICK by Steven Stone. Love the team's hunger so far! Right where it should be.

8:10: Wow, Kentucky quarterback Randall Cobb looked like he had the corner and the sticks, but the Dores run him out of bounds short of the marker. Big stop to sustain the momentum.

7:48: Exhale, VU fans. Exhale. Repeat several times. Almost a disastrous turnover, but Moore recovers his own fumbled punt.

6:40: Nickson continuing to run Kentucky ragged. No need to throw with that footspeed. Scrambling gives Vandy its best chance to move the ball.

4:49: Good pressure by UK's defensive front, forcing an incompletion on third and 7. No problem—the Dores gained field position on that drive.

4:39: Christmas comes a month early for Vandy, as a roughing-the-punter flag gives the Dores a first down at the UK 36. Gotta get points out of this, ideally seven.

3:48: As Nickson hits George Smith on a smooth first down-gaining pass, it's pretty plain that VU has its offensive rhythm. We saw much more of this in September. Boy, don't pinch me. Allow this to continue, for the love of all that is holy.

2:00: MOORE OF THE SAME FOR VANDY! D.J. smokes UK's acclaimed cornerback, Trevard Lindley, for a 14-0 lead! Right along with ESPN2 analyst Bob Davie, I was thinking quarterback draw, but Nickson instead feathered a sensationally soft pass into Moore's hands. Vandy being dandy in this biggest of games. In the back of the mind, one wonders when the music will die and the confidence will turn into runaway anxiety. Let's see if the boys can continue to bring it. They key is to deal with one deflating moment—if it ever arrives—and play through adversity. That's the biggest thing to keep an eye on as this game progresses.

0:47: Another three-and-out! Kentucky is as listless as the Dores are amped. As long as UK lacks a spark, and doesn't get a big break, Vandy can and will keep the Cats down.

End of first quarter: Vandy 14, Kentucky 0. No, it's not a misprint.

14:14 left in second quarter: Nickson converts a third down with his legs. Again. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Steady behind the wheel, skipper.

13:39: Yes, Nickson took the sack, generally a no-no, but I have to admit that while that play cripples a drive, taking the sack keeps the clock moving. That might not be so bad a move as long as the Dores are leading by two scores, and Nickson can minimize the amount of yards lost. VU does want to shorten this game, now that it's ahead.

12:02: I know that some people don't believe in a divine entity, though may I say that Vanderbilt University has a mighty fine divinity school. With that having been acknowledged, it now appears that higher forces are giving Vandy an extra nudge. Yes, that's a SECOND ROUGHING-THE-PUNTER FLAG thrown against Kentucky. Yes, Vandy's offense stays on the field, and UK's defense has to mumble and grumble while going back to the trenches again. The time of possession is so lopsided—14 minutes to 3—that UK's defense will quickly run out of stamina, while the Cats' offense won't be able to gain any rhythm whatsoever. A virtually perfect run of events so far for VU fans. Perfect.

11:00: Oh, geez. A completely unnecessary, but correctly called, holding penalty wipes out a play that gets to the UK 12. Sigh.

10:06: NO! Another horrible penalty on a great-looking flat pass. Inexcusable. Two first-down plays wiped away by bad holding penalties.

9:33: Okay, that scramble by Nickson should put Hahnfeldt in play. Come on, kid. Nail it.

8:45: You have got to be kidding. No, wait. You don't need to kid. That's another deflating play in the kicking game. The 42-yarder gets blocked, but that's actually okay. The truly bad part is that Kentucky gets a scoop and score, returning the blocked boot for a touchdown without the benefit of any offense. It's 14-7, and there's your adversity. Well, time to prove that a stomach-punch occasion won't stand in the way of victory. Now's the time to establish your manhood, boys.

6:34: Big-time, bulldozing run by Hawkins for the first down. Kentucky's defense has to be gassed. Do keep in mind that UK's touchdown was scored without its offense taking the field. The ESPN2 production truck helps out here, showing that time of possession is 20.5 minutes to 3.5 minutes for the Dores. Just keep pounding away at UK's defense. The Cats have to be tired, and even without first downs, the clock runs, forcing Kentucky's offense to wait even more.

4:31: Lindley gets one back as he knocks away a pass intended for Moore. Now, all the pressure is on a UK offense that has barely run any plays in this first half. VU's defense has to look for Cobb's scrambles. The Cats can't be expected to pass the pall with polish and precision. Vandy's defense needs to make Cobb win with his throwing arm.

4:19: Cobb threw a pass, and sure enough, the young quarterback looked rusty with his toss. Moore—the MVP of the game so far—makes a tremendous diving grab for the pick. Gee, Kentucky's defense has to go right back to the field AGAIN! Crazy… crazy good for the Commodores.

4:02: Nickson is in for the touchdown! Wait, they rule him down at the 1. Hmmmmm….. I'd like a replay there. Come on, where's the replay? Oh, well. Just get one more yard, and it's back to a 14-point margin.

3:31: No dice on first and goal from the 1. That's okay—more clock time the Cats can't get back.

2:49: WHAT A PLAY BY TIGHT END BRANDON BARDEN! Oh, NOW they review the play on which Vandy scores, but they didn't review the play on which Nickson was ruled down at the 1. Gimme a break!... And, as a matter of fact, the replay crew does give Vandy a break, because Barden looked to be down at the one-inch line. Then again, it looked as though Nickson was in on the previous play, so fair's fair: 21-7, Dores.

2:15: Again, Cobb is rusty. Who wouldn't be with less than four minutes of possession in the whole first half?

2:09: Darlron Spead with a great close on the ball to knock it down and force a UK punt. The mojo is still on the Vandy side of the divide.

2:02: How can you not look fake there? The last thing you want to do, up by 14 late in the first half, is to give up a big play. That means, GUARD AGAINST A FAKE PUNT AND DON'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT A RETURN. But Rich Brooks snookers Bobby Johnson, and the punter, Tim Masthay, gets an easy first down, UK's first of the game, if you can possibly believe it. Yes, it took Kentucky 27 minutes and 58 seconds to get its first first down. Wow.

1:03: Kentucky going for it. That's risky, but to be honest, one can't fault the logic of a coach whose team is down 14 and looking for a ball of lightning.

0:58: Vandy takes more corn off the Cobb again. Good pressure forces an incompletion, and lookee here, the Dores—at their own 44—have a chance to tack on more points before halftime.

0:51: Oh, that perfect deep ball should have been caught before the Kentucky safety delivered the stick.

0:38: First down run from Hawkins. Three points here would be huge.

0:23: Gotta call timeout. None left. All right, Mr. Nickson. If you throw in the middle of the field, which you can, it's gotta be for a first down. Can't take a sack. Keep your wits here, and stay solid.

0:18: Oh, Sean Walker has to lay out his body there. A tad overthrown, but Walker wasn't going to get hit. A missed touchdown right there.

0:10: Spike the ball.

0:07: All right! Five precious yards gifted to the Dores. Kentucky's offside flag moves the field goal under 40 yards.

0:02: HAHNFELDT NAILS IT FROM 38 YARDS OUT! SWEET REDEMPTION! The kid who has suffered so many agonies in his long Vandy career will relish that clutch kick. What an awesome end to a spectacular first half. Take away just one ill-fated field goal attempt, and it's an essentially flawless performance. As it stands, the Dores take a three-possession bulge to the locker room, with Kentucky's defense being absolutely spent. As long as the Cats don't get a quick score at the start of the second half, Vandy can lean on UK's gassed defensive front, drain the clock, and take all the drama out of this duel. Pretty simple formula for second-half success, if you ask me… or Bobby Johnson.

HALFTIME: Vandy 24, Kentucky 7.

Start of third quarter: Okay, boys. Don't let UK breathe. Smother them now, and make them go to sleep.

14:13 left, third quarter: Kentucky's first offensive first down (the previous first down coming from the punt team). Amazing.

13:45: That's what the Dores had to deal with. Cobb scrambles for 14. That's Kentucky's path back into contention. Gotta stop that play. Make the lefty throw into the secondary, where more interceptions await.

12:33: Huge, huge, huge third down coming up.

11:50: Cobb can't hit his man. Vandy's defense doing exactly what it should. Now watch the fake!

11:40: No fake punt, but something even worse: Moore fumbles the football! Kentucky recovers inside the 15. You. Have. Got. To. Be. Joking. Lots of wailing and cursing in homes and dormitories in Nashville after that play. (Shakes head in disbelief.)

10:23: Okay, after Ryan Hamilton stuffs a first-down run, you have to think quarterback draw.

10:00: No, not a draw, but something else to the edges—an option, and it scores. Well, no time to pout. Time to regain control of the proceedings. At least that major blunder occurred while being up 17, and not 7 (or tied). Vandy still up by 10. The formula for victory remains simple. It's all about doing the deed.

8:45: Nice powerful run by Hawkins. Again, no need to make this complicated. Run the ball against UK's tired defense, and wear down the Cats until they have nothing left in the tank.

8:06: A holding penalty. Just when they had settled things down. Unreal.

7:24: Just an aside, to make sure the world still exists and we're all alive: Troy 31, LSU 3, in Baton Rouge, third quarter. If that happens, then surely, Vandy can win tonight.

6:44: Nickson running around like a headless horseman instead of minimizing the lost yardage.

6:13: For Kentucky fans, it's a bad horror movie. For Vandy fans, it's a dream come true. A third roughing-the-punter penalty.

NOW WAIT A MINUTE! The only preliminary signal was for a roughing penalty, and there was NO MENTION of an illegal formation penalty on Vandy. Where the heck did that flag come from? There was only one initial announcement by the officiating crew. Perhaps that call was correct. Let's concede that for the sake of argument. It's still entirely unacceptable for a call to come that late. That's a really hard one to swallow for any Vandy fan. Unbelievable.

5:00: Nice stop by Vandy. UK will probably go for it at the VU 44. Watch Mr. Cobb.

4:16: A busted coverage leads to a 34-yard pass to the Commodore 10. Vandy has to bear down and limit the Cats to a field goal here.

3:09: Monster play by Ryan Hamilton to run down Cobb and set up third and goal from the 9. One more play, boys. One more play.

2:41: Exhale, Vandy fans. Cobb has a receiver all alone in the end zone, but air-mails him. Field goal time.

2:36: The bad news? Kentucky's now within one possession of the Dores. The good news? The Cats get only three instead of seven. 24-17, but darnit, we're seeing a slow-motion train wreck that has to be halted. A mighty significant drive coming up for the Johnson Boys.

2:29: Good fumble-free kick return to the 32. Solid field position is conducive to a more settled performance from the offense, and—for that matter—from everyone on the team. Game on.

2:12: Don't do anything stupid in the pile after the play, boys. Just play. No personal foul flags allowed.

0:51: There's a get-out-of-jail-free card. Nickson commits a king-sized gaffe by failing to throw the ball away and entrust things to his defense, but a roughing-the-passer penalty gives the ball back to the Dores, wiping out the brain-dead interception. The call was a good one. Not a late hit, but a blow to the head.

0:23: A good timeout by Bobby Johnson, even if it comes late in the third quarter. Settle the team down, catch your breath, and recommit to excellence. Time to regroup.

0:14: THAT'S WHY THAT TIMEOUT WAS SO GOOD!!! Nickson goes for 36 to the UK 15. Without the timeout, I would have bet my last dollar that VU would have just called up a conservative dive play to Hawkins for a two-yard gain. Instead, they get Nickson out of the tackle box, and he runs along the hashes before breaking to the sideline. He got hit late, but that's okay. Still a huge gain and a massive shift in momentum. Barring a total breakdown, VU will have a two-possession lead early in the fourth quarter.

End of third quarter: Vandy 24, Kentucky 17. (Exhale. Do Yoga. Snap a rubber band on your wrist. Anything to relieve the tension.)

Start of fourth quarter: Don't. Throw. A pick. Please.

14:38: Great, late surge by Nickson, aided by teammates, to get a first down inside the 5.

14:14: TOUCHDOWN, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY! Hawkins barrels in from the 4! 31-17. Just one solid quarter of football, guys. Seal the deal.

11:55: Chris Marve creates a sack that he missed, but then ultimately finished. You'd think Kentucky would have to roll the dice near midfield, being down by two touchdowns.

11:16: You would have been wrong… and I definitely was. Rich Brooks punts, and after a touchback, the noose tightens on the Cats. Kentucky can only have as many opportunities as the Dores choose to allow. Simple football wins this game, but as VU fans know all too well, the simple has been hard to execute in November, as Vandy has lost its last 19 games in which bowl eligibility was at stake.

11:12: Why are you throwing, offensive coordinator Ted Cain (who, it should be said, has had his best game of the season tonight, hands down)? Get back to calling a great game.

10:18: Bob Davie says what everyone in Commonwealth Stadium is thinking (not to mention the national TV audience): "The timing of these penalties…" A hold wipes out a long, long run by Nickson. Every penalty has seemingly been enormous in this game. No nickel-dime flags in Lexington.

9:50: No way. Nickson drifts into the end zone, way behind the line of scrimmage, before throwing the ball away. If he doesn't get the ball past the line of scrimmage—and it was VERY, VERY CLOSE—he could have been nailed for intentional grounding, which, when committed in the end zone, produces a safety. Nickson has to avoid boomeranging from the brilliant to the brutal. He's been a flat-out stud on the gridiron tonight, but he needs to remember that he almost threw this game away with the interception that got eliminated by a fortuitous roughing call. Common sense is virtually all the Dores need right now.

9:30: HOW IS THAT NOT OFFENSIVE PASS INTERFERENCE??????!!!!!!!!!!!!!

8:22: How many tackles were missed on that run??!! And in a heartbeat, with a major assist from the zebras, it's 31-24. Sweet fancy Moses. Goodness gracious sakes alive. Heavens to Betsy.

The lifespans of Vandy fans are decreasing as we speak.

8:06: Okay, Ted Cain, nice move. If you are going to throw at this point, make it a very safe play like that, and get Nickson outside the tackle box with a run option. Good stuff.

6:56: I love the option call on third-and-3 from the VU 40. Nickson gets the first down. Ted is raising more Cain with his play calling. Gigantic first down. Let the play clock run, and this drive will eat up both time and field position.

5:25: That play will be overturned on replay. The attempted catch by Barden won't matter much in terms of gaining a first down, but it will mean that Kentucky saves an extra 45 seconds with the incompletion.

5:20: Can't find too much fault with that call. Time to punt and force UK to drive a long way.

5:00: One defensive stop. One.

3:56: Three straight first downs, and Vandy's defense looks flat-footed precisely when it should be fresh.

3:23: Hmmmmm. Very curious timeout by Kentucky, when the Wildcats had absolutely no problems with their drive. This makes it that much more probable that a defensive stand will deliver a win. But with UK at the Vandy 35, that stand isn't a guaranteed proposition.

3:17: Vandy and Moore get lucky. That ball was thrown late and long, so despite getting smoked, VU's star cover corner doesn't wear goat horns after doing so much to build this lead. Oh, another timeout from Cobb! UK with only one left. Now, it can be said that this drive is the ballgame. The Cats won't get a second chance.

3:12: Why blitz from the edges when the QB draw is available? Bring the heat up the middle. First down, UK.

2:52: Oh, what Vandy fans wouldn't give for one fat drive-blunting sack right now…

2:49: Ball thrown slightly behind, but UK's E.J. Adams should still come up with that ball. Vandy, on a third-and-10 at the 28, is tempting fate. The defensive front has to unsettle Cobb without giving him a running lane.

2:40: Good pressure to force a short throw and fourth down. One play, boys. One play.

2:07: WHO MAKES THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PLAY IN VANDERBILT FOOTBALL HISTORY SINCE THE YEAR 1982? IT COULD BE NONE OTHER THAN ONE MISTER D.J. MOORE, WHO SNARES ANOTHER INTERCEPTION WITH A FABULOUS LUNGING GRAB! AVOID A FUMBLE, AND WIN NUMBER SIX WILL FINALLY ARRIVE! SWEET JESUS!

2:02: Hawkins for eight! Two more yards, and it's victory formation. Timeout, Kentucky, the last one for the Wildcats.

1:56: HAWKINS FOR THE FIRST DOWN! The "V" on the helmet stands for victory, the sweetest one seen in 26 long and painful years. Vandy gets to kneel three times to finally cross the threshold.

0:00, fourth quarter: Let it be known, for future generations of Vandy kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, that you were watching, at 10:23 p.m. Central Standard Time on November 15, 2008, when the Commodores punched their ticket to a bowl game after a drought that lasted longer than a quarter century. Bobby Johnson received a Gatorade bath. The Black and Gold won on the road in November against an SEC opponent with a winning record. Postseason plans will be drawn up. Extra practice sessions will be held in December. A program has thrown off the shackles that have kept it in the cellar of the SEC. A school that has remained committed to academics has won the right way. A coach committed to eliminating profanity, a man who always molded his players properly, has given his young men the greatest football gift they could ever hope for. No more talk of collapses and same ol' Vandy. This team buried its demons in Lexington, Kentucky, on a night that no one in the VU family will ever forget.

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