Oct. 2, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ecstasy and agony were etched on the faces of the sellout crowd at Commonwealth Stadium on this muggy afternoon in Lexington as Alabama and Kentucky battled it out on the gridiron.
Miraculously, Alabama won the see-saw battle on an 86-yard drive in the waning seconds. Senior quarterback Vince Sutton’s 3-yard touchdown pass to senior quarterback-turned-tight end Gene Newberry was the game clincher with 10 seconds left on the clock as the Crimson Tide pulled out a 31-27 in front 53,442 fans and national cable audience.
The Crimson Tide heroes rallied the Tide from two double-digit deficits in the game. Alabama trailed 17-0 at halftime and found themselves down 27-16 with just over five minutes to play in the game. Sutton and Newberry, two highly sought-after quarterbacks some five years earlier, had lived in virtual seclusion at Alabama. Sutton, a backup and sometimes starter, was on the throwing end to Newberry, a converted tight end and special team’s player. Fittingly, the two seniors shared the spotlight for Alabama on this Saturday afternoon.
Not to be overshadowed was the remarkable play of All-American linebacker Derrick Thomas, who single-handedly kept the Tide in the game with one big play after another. Thomas had 14 tackles, four sacks (-14 yards) and recorded one blocked punt and one blocked field goal. He was named the National Player of the Week by The Sporting News for his efforts.
The Wildcats led 17-0 at halftime on the strength of two long touchdowns and a field goal. Glenn Fohr’s 37-yard pass to Ray Gover put the Wildcats up 7-0 in the first quarter. Ken Willis’ 38-yard field goal with 1:47 left in the first quarter made it 10-0. The Wildcats struck again in the second quarter to make it 17-0 on Al Baker’s 38-yard scamper with 12:47 left in the half.
Kentucky dominated the first three quarters, taking a 20-7 lead into the final 15 minutes. Alabama had managed a mere 119 yards of offense through three quarters and the Tide’s lone touchdown came as a result of a fake field goal when holder Chris Mohr fired a 12-yard TD pass to kicker Phillip Doyle on the Tide’s first possession of the second half. The touchdown was set up by a fumble recovery by George Bethune at the Wildcats 14-yard line.
Trailing 20-7 entering the final stanza, Alabama scored 24 points and piled up 256 total yards en route to the comeback win. Doyle’s 23-yard field goal capped an 11-play, 67-yard drive and cut the lead to 20-10 with 13:08 left in the game.
After a Kentucky three-and-out, Alabama got the ball back at its own 24-yard line and running back Murry Hill scored on the first play from scrimmage with a blistering 76-yard run to pull the Tide to within 20-16. Jeff Dunn’s two-point pass attempt to Marco Battle was batted down by UK left end Tony Massey, leaving the Tide down by four points. Hill led all rushers with 21 carries for 143 yards and one TD.
The Wildcats answered with a quick touchdown of its own and seemingly regained momentum. UK covered 68 yards in four plays to push its lead back into double figures. Fohr completed a 44-yard pass to Phil Logan to give the Tide a first down at the UA 23-yard line. Alfred Rawls’ 22-yard burst set up Tony Massey’s one-yard plunge as the Wildcats extended the lead to 27-16.
Alabama punted on its next possession, but got a huge momentum changer on UK’s next possession. Rawls fumbled at the UK 24-yard line, giving the Tide the ball in excellent field position. Greg Gilbert forced the fumble and Kermit Kendrick pounced on the loose football keying the Tide’s frantic comeback.
The Tide took five plays to score as Sutton hit Greg Payne with a 12-yard scoring strike and Hill’s two-point run cut the lead to 27-24 with 5:06 left in the game. Payne was UA’s leading receiver with six catches for 103 yards and one TD.
Kentucky drove to near midfield before punting on fourth-and-nine from their own 44-yard line. John Cassimus fielded the punt at the UA 6-yard line and returned it eight yards.
Alabama’s final drive began at its own 14-yard line. Sutton accounted for all 86 yards, including a 17-yard fourth down run to keep the drive alive deep in UA territory. Following the fourth down run to the UA 34-yard line, Sutton completed a 16-yard pass to Howard Cross and then hit speedster Todd Richardson with a 45-yard pass to the UK 5-yard line. The Sutton-to-Newberry pass came on another fourth-down play, which left Alabama fans elated after this miracle comeback.