published Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Wiedmer: First-in-a-lifetime moment thrills Cats

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Middle-aged men grabbed for clumps of the Commonwealth Stadium grass. Women shed happy tears, along with at least one slightly choked up University of Kentucky head football coach.

"At halftime, we talked about how much are you willing to give for a lifetime memory?" UK coach Joker Phillips said in the minutes immediately after his Wildcats shocked Tennessee 10-7 Saturday afternoon.

"At the end I asked [the underclassmen] were they willing to fight, scratch and claw to give their big brothers [seniors] a memory of a lifetime."

A lifetime -- and then some. The last time Big Blue had beaten the Big Orange on the football field was 1984, and that was in Knoxville, a 17-12 triumph in which Phillips was a key performer as a wide receiver.

The last UK win over the Volunteers inside Commonwealth had come in 1981 in Fran Curci's final game as head coach.

"None of us were even born then," said Kentucky senior offensive lineman Stuart Hines, who grew up in Bowling Green, 22 miles north of the Tennessee border. "So losing to Tennessee was all we've ever known."

To make it worse for Hines, his family is loaded with Vols fans.

"They'd buy me UT hats, shirts, whatever they thought would make me like the Vols," he said. "But I wanted to go to Kentucky."

And once there, his relatives reminded him of the streak every holiday season, through consecutive losses No. 24, No. 25 and No. 26.

"Coach Phillips can say it wasn't about the streak, that he didn't talk about the streak, and he didn't," Hines said. "But for me it was 100 percent about the streak."

It looked 100 percent certain that the streak would continue when Kentucky trotted out senior wide receiver Matt Roark as its quarterback for the opening half. Yet as Phillips said afterward -- acknowledging the injuries to starting quarterback Maxwell Smith and former starter Morgan Newton -- "He was all we had."

Though it wasn't as if Roark had never played the position. The 6-foot-5, 214-pound senior from Acworth, Ga., had played quarterback in high school well enough to have an undefeated season with a guy named Tee Martin -- who's now the UK receivers coach -- guiding him as quarterbacks coach.

But that was four years ago. And he was primarily a running quarterback then. How could he possibly learn how to be a winning SEC quarterback in one week? Especially against a school the Cats hadn't beaten since 1984, a school that was playing for a bowl bid when the Cats were playing for nothing?

"But we didn't have anything to lose," UK linebacker Avery Williamson said. "We just wanted to send the seniors out on a high note."

Added UK senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed: "I could see it in everybody's eyes. We wanted to stop them from going to a bowl."

So offensive coordinator Randy Sanders simplified the playbook by at least 200 percent.

"He had 51 plays on his wristband," Sanders said of Roark. "We probably used 30. On a typical game we might have 150, 160 options available."

But sometimes it's making the most of those options. Roark ran 24 times for 124 total yards. The officials ruled that his only fumble was recovered by teammate La'Rod King, which meant UK had no turnovers to Tennessee's three.

And while he was gaining those yards, the Vols were struggling to total 61 rushing yards, which meant the longer the game went, the more UK's defense could tee off on UT quarterback Tyler Bray.

Finally, it came down to the Vols facing a fourth-and-17 at the UT 21. Bray fired wild, and the ball was picked off by Taiedo Smith. Down 3-0 at halftime, the Vols had lost 10-3, making UT coach Derek Dooley 0-14 when tied or trailing at intermission.

But after 26 straight losses to the Big Orange, the Big Blue Nation didn't care about Dooley, or the Vols, or the bowl-less holiday season that awaits UT.

They lifted Roark on their shoulders and floated him on a human wave to the edge of the field. They flooded the playing surface for nearly an hour, trying to soak it all in.

Back in the UK locker room, Martin -- the former Vol who quarterbacked UT to the 1998 national title -- said, "I sang the fight song, the UK fight song."

Said Phillips, aware that outstanding Wildcat quarterbacks such as Tim Couch, Andre Woodson and Jared Lorenzen had all failed to beat UT, “Who would pick out Matt Roark as the guy to break the streak?”

Added Roark: "The hardest part was not telling anybody [that he was going to start]. I really wanted to tell my family, but I know they have a big mouth, and my friends tweet all the time so I had to keep quiet."

A few feet away, Hines couldn't stop grinning or talking about how much more fun this holiday season would be around his UT-loving relatives than the previous three.

"This is the best win I've ever been a part of," he said. "And I've been a part of two bowl wins. But they aren't even close to this. We'll remember this for the rest of our lives."

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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WHS1970 said...

Congrats Wiedmer, after 27 years your team finally won. Good for you.

November 27, 2011 at 10:29 p.m.
jomo11 said...

If i remember Vol fans acted the same way with their win over Vandy. . . . .so don't be quick to be critical with Ky fans . . .

November 28, 2011 at 10:21 a.m.
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