Ten years later, Bluegrass Miracle recalled

DSC_0092  Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING. Photo shot on 11/9/2002.  LSU's Devery Henderson tipped the ball twice before hauling it in and sprinting by Kentucky's Derek Tatum to score the winning touchdown.
DSC_0092 Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING. Photo shot on 11/9/2002. LSU's Devery Henderson tipped the ball twice before hauling it in and sprinting by Kentucky's Derek Tatum to score the winning touchdown.

Ten years later, improbable win over UK recalled

Every week in practice, like every football team in the country, the Scotlandville Hornets line up and give wing to a prayer.

They simply call it a Hail Mary, that break-glass-in-case-of-emergency play every team has in its book, designed to try to score a touchdown when all hope of victory has been squashed.

Scotlandville offensive coordinator Marcus Randall, a man who has an intimate history with such desperate wishes, said the play has yet to work.

“Hopefully, it will when we need it,” he said.

Randall may have to face the reality that in this lifetime, he has used up his Hail Mary quota.

Back when Randall played quarterback at LSU, the Tigers practiced a similar play every Thursday.

They ran it from right about midfield. It was called “Dash Right 93 Berlin,” so named because the pass was supposed to come falling down like the Allied bombs on Berlin in World War II.

And just like it has been for Scotlandville’s Hail Mary, Dash Right 93 Berlin was always a dud in practice.

But on the afternoon of Nov. 9, 2002, at Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium, LSU’s desperation pass play ignited a dramatic firestorm that burns to this day.

It resulted in the Bluegrass Miracle, a play that has taken its place alongside Billy Cannon’s Halloween Night punt return in 1959 and Tommy Hodson’s “Earthquake Game” pass to Eddie Fuller in 1988 as one of the most indelibly etched moments in LSU football history.

For most of the game that day, it didn’t look like the Tigers would have to resort to any such dramatics.

LSU led 21-7 in the third quarter but frittered away its advantage to the point that with 11 seconds left, Kentucky kicker Taylor Begley kicked a 29-yard field goal to put the Wildcats up 30-27.

Kentucky fans started jumping out of the Commonwealth Stadium stands, ringing the field. On the UK sideline, quarterback Jared Lorenzen doused coach Guy Morriss with a cooler full of water. A Big Blue upset seemed inevitable.

Devery Henderson returned the kickoff after Begley’s field goal to the LSU 13. A delay-of-game penalty pushed the Tigers back to their 8, from where Randall hit Michael Clayton on a crossing pattern at the LSU 25. Clayton popped up and called time out with 2 seconds left.

It seemed a futile gesture. In a suite high behind the end zone, the Tigers were trying to reach, Sandy Bertman, wife of then-LSU athletic director Skip Bertman, turned to Nick Saban’s wife Terry and said, “We need a miracle.”

Make that a Bluegrass Miracle.

Taking one last shotgun snap, Randall rolled right to the LSU 18 as time expired. Kentucky fans streamed onto the field. Fireworks erupted in the end zone behind Randall. Some started to climb the goalposts.

Downfield, LSU receivers Henderson, Clayton and Reggie Robinson slowed inside the UK 30 as the ball started its downward arc. The ball sailed over Clayton and into the hands of UK’s Morris Lane, who tipped it at the 24 toward the hands of teammate Earven Flowers.

The ball slipped through. Near the 19, Henderson — who was supposed to be the short receiver on the play — got his outstretched right hand on the ball before bringing it in to his chest.

“We were all out of place,” Henderson recalled. “I just kept running.”

Kentucky’s Derek Tatum tried to grab Henderson’s left knee for a split second at the 10, but Henderson shook him off and danced into the end zone as disbelieving Kentucky fans already on the field retreated to the sideline.

The play won the game for LSU, 33-30. It would eventually win an ESPY award. It would make legends of Henderson and Randall, and allow their improbable heroics to take their place alongside Doug Flutie to Gerard Phelan (Boston College over Miami, 1984) and the Miracle at Michigan (Colorado’s Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook, 1994).

But Flutie’s pass covered 63 yards, Stewart’s heave 64. Neither had to navigate the pinball wizardry of the Bluegrass Miracle: Randall to Henderson — via Lane and Flowers.

“There’s a little bit of luck when you hit one,” said then-LSU and current Alabama coach Nick Saban. “The ball has to bounce right for you, and it did that day.

“It was fun to be part of a play that people remember this long.”

Henderson couldn’t forget if he wanted to.

“It’s in the back of my mind, but I always get reminded of it,” said Henderson, now in his eighth season with the New Orleans Saints. “Every time I go back to LSU, I’m reminded of it even more. It’s great to be part of something like that, to be part of history.”

For Randall, it’s the stories people tell him that is one of his favorite parts of the Bluegrass Legacy.

“I’ve heard all kinds of stories,” he said. “Where they were when it happened, how they missed it because they thought the game was over. People told me they turned their TV off, went somewhere and heard it on the radio in their cars.”

Fortunately, there is no record of the Bluegrass Multi-car Pileup.

There is always someone on the other side of the miracle moment, of course.

Jake Gibbs punted to Billy Cannon, and had to hear the play for years as Ole Miss’ baseball coach every time he came out at Alex Box Stadium to change pitchers.

Robbie Morrison, the Miami pitcher who served up Warren Morris’ winning home run in the 1996 College World Series, endured catcalls in the minor leagues. Miami pitching coach Lazer Collazo admitted to thoughts that bordered on suicidal.

When Randall was a rookie quarterback with the Tennessee Titans, he was teammates with Shane Boyd, who in 2002 was Lorenzen’s backup quarterback.

“He told me the story of how the team was in the locker room while their fans were still out there celebrating,” Randall recalled. “You’d have thought they were playing for the national championship.

“I’d probably feel a little bad for them if they didn’t pre-celebrate on us like that.”

Long after the game ended, giddy-but-drained LSU players and coaches piled into a string of charter buses outside Commonwealth Stadium for a plane ride home that didn’t really require wings.

In the parking lot, a Kentucky fan named Chris Holian watched the Tigers drive off, a bemused look on his face.

“Fifty-nine minutes and 58 seconds,” Holian said. “I knew it was too good to be true.”

Ten years later, it’s hard to believe that it was — especially when you watch teams practice their Hail Marys and have their prayers go unanswered.