Former players remember ’97 win over Alabama

Published 9:45 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023

By Larry Vaught

Contributing Columnist

Alabama has been back to play in Lexington three times since Kentucky’s stunning 40-34 overtime victory over the Crimson Tide in 1997.

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Alabama won 45-17 in 2004, 38-20 in 2009 and 48-7 in 2013. Could Saturday afternoon be the time Kentucky changes that trend against Nick Saban’s team at Kroger Field? Alabama is 8-1 coming into the game and coming off a 42-28 win over LSU while UK is 6-3 and coming off a win over Mississippi State.

If UK does pull the upset, it likely will take big  plays like the Cats had in 1997. David Ginn and Jermaine White blocked an Alabama field goal attempt that Anwar Stewart, now UK’s defensive line coach, returned 68 yards for a touchdown. In overtime, quarterback Tim Couch threw a game-winning 26-yard scoring pass to Craig Yeast giving the Cats their first win over Alabama in 75 years.

“It’s still kind of a blur. It was just one of those things where you are doing your job. Jermaine did a really good job getting up and blocking it,” Stewart said. “I keep telling everybody it just fell in my hands and I just took it and ran. That’s pretty much all I remember.”

Yeast, UK’s all-time leading receiver, remembers a lot more.

“I remember the blocked kick and Anwar running in for a touchdown. I remember the Alabama fumble in overtime. There was a lot of stuff that went on in the game,” he said.

Running back Anthony White felt he had one of his worst games at Kentucky in a 35-7 loss at Alabama in 1996. However, he said everything was “clicking” in the 1997 win.

“We knew when we played Florida or Tennessee we might have to score 60 points to stay in the game. That day if we came off the field and did not score, the defense came through for us,” White said. “We knew that we needed a complete game and had to rely on our defense to get some stops and they did. I had a lot of incentive to beat Alabama after having one of the worst games of my life in 1996 against them.”

He remembered the game-winning touchdown pass to Yeast was originally an option route for him but Couch went to Yeast.

“He caught it and I tried to make a block but Craig broke a tackle and we won,” White said. “It was a great celebration. Everybody was running on the field. There were so many fans I could not find my teammates to celebrate. Fans were hugging, dancing. Ladies kept kissing me on the cheek. I was crazy.

“I came back to the locker room and nobody else was there. We always prayed after games but I couldn’t find anybody. I thought maybe I should go back out on the field but I just decided to stay there by myself.”

Fans on the field not only tore the goalposts down but carried them out of then Commonwealth Stadium back to the UK campus.

“The celebration was great,” Stewart said. “It was pretty cool with the goalposts coming down and that game was a huge part of Kentucky football history,” Stewart said. “Tim, Craig, Anthony and all those guys were just battling until the end. It was awesome and those memories are pretty cool.”

Yeast, now the head coach at Mercer County High School, still has people tell him they remember his touchdown catch against Alabama.

“They tell me they were at the game and want to know if that was my favorite UK game,” Yeast said. “It was probably the most famous game but actually Tim and I made a much better play when we beat Mississippi State the only year we played in a bowl game.

“But people remember that Alabama win and rushing the field.”

Stewart admits he will probably mention to his defensive players about “leaving a legacy” like he did with his teammates by beating Alabama.

“All of us came in together and all contributed to that big win. It was awesome,” Stewart said. “As we get older and fat and are sitting around having a few beers, those are great conversations to have about beating Alabama.”