- Vol Report: Published Nov. 11, 2007
- PostGame audio slide show: UT vs. Vanderbilt
- Box Score: UT vs. Vanderbilt
- Dave Hooker's Audio
Tennessee Stat Book
It was about the power of positive thinking, they said. It was about will and heart, they said.
But in the end Saturday it was out of their hands. All they could do was what Jerod Mayo did:
Watch helplessly as Vanderbilt's 49-yard game-winning field-goal attempt sailed toward the goal posts.
"I tried to block it," Mayo, Tennessee's middle linebacker, said, "then I just turned to watch.
"The thing started drifting and I just said, 'Thank God' and turned and walked off the field."
Mayo and 19th-ranked Tennessee walked off the field at Neyland Stadium relieved winners - and, in the bargain, still contenders to claim an SEC Eastern Division title next week at Kentucky.
The Vols (8-3, 5-2 SEC) overturned a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Vanderbilt 25-24 on Daniel Lincoln's 33-yard field goal with 2:46 to play.
But it wasn't a sure thing until Vandy's Bryan Hahnfeldt pushed a 49-yard kick wide left with 33 seconds left.
The kick grazed the outside of the left upright. Tennessee's escape was that close.
"We gave ourselves a chance to win," said Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson. "We just didn't win."
That wasn't empty rhetoric.
The Commodores (5-6, 2-6 SEC) - who did win here two years ago - held the ball for 7 minutes, 24 seconds longer than Tennessee. They played turnover-free and limited the Vols to 2-of-12 on third-down conversions.
Mackenzi Adams put Tennessee on its heels with three touchdown passes, two in boosting the Commodores to a 17-9 halftime lead and a third, to George Smith, to make it 24-9 with 9:00 left in the third quarter.
It would be two more possessions before the Vols began their rally.
Quarterback Erik Ainge, erratic after firing a touchdown pass to Lucas Taylor on the opening drive of the game, finally got his groove back.
He hit Josh Briscoe with a 7-yard TD pass with 14:45 to play. That closed the gap to 24-16.
His 5-yard scoring strike to Austin Rogers with 7:14 left narrowed it to 24-22.
Because Lincoln's extra-point attempt in the first quarter had been blocked, Tennessee tried a 2-point conversion to get even. Ainge's pass was incomplete.
The Vols' defense forced a third consecutive three-and-out series, which freshman Dennis Rogan punctuated with a 45-yard punt return.
UT set up at the Vandy 33 with 5:50 to play. The Vols reached the 16 before stalling and it was up to Lincoln.
The redshirt freshman wasn't in the best frame of mind. In addition to the blocked extra point, a first-half field-goal try had bounced off the upright.
But just as he did against South Carolina three weeks ago, Lincoln came through when the chips were down.
"As soon as it left my foot, I knew it was good," he said. "It was time to celebrate."
Not so fast.
A crowd of 105,077 swallowed its celebration as Vandy's D.J. Moore returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards to the UT 42.
The defense appeared to have done its job until DeAngelo Willingham was flagged for pass interference.
First down, Vanderbilt at the UT 31 with 1:50 to play.
But the Vols weren't budging, and on fourth-and-10, the outcome rested on Hahnfeldt.
The kick was plenty long but began to drift to the left.
"I thought, 'Lord, just give me a little bit of wind,' '' said UT defensive tackle Dan Williams. "I really feel the Lord blessed us and it's our destiny to be in Atlanta."
First, the Vols have to be in Lexington.
If they beat Kentucky, it's on to Atlanta for the Dec. 1 SEC championship game against LSU. If not, Georgia backs into the East crown.
The Kentucky game was beginning to look irrelevant the way Vandy chewed up the Vols well into the third quarter.
Adams' 5-yard TD pass to tight end Brad Allen capped a 17-play drive to give the 'Dores a 7-6 lead.
Following a 33-yard Lincoln field goal, Vandy raced 76 yards with Adams finding Jeff Jennings for a 21-yard TD pass and a 14-9 lead.
Moments later, an Ainge sideways incomplete pass was ruled a lateral and Vanderbilt recovered at the UT 16. Hahnfeldt's 33-yard field goal made it 17-9 at the half.
The Commodores took the second-half kickoff and resumed the assault with Adams hitting Smith from 2 yards out for a 24-9 lead.
To that point, Vanderbilt had 237 yards of offense. It would manage only 33 more the rest of the way.
"At halftime,'' said defensive end Xavier Mitchell, "Demonte (Bolden) and Jerod Mayo said a few things we already knew.
"(That) We've got to get our heads out of our butts and go play football."
Ainge, along with Mitchell and 21 other seniors making a final appearance in Neyland Stadium, said the Vols never lost hope.
"We weren't saying, 'I hope we can win,'" Ainge said. "I genuinely knew we were going to win that football game."
Nevertheless, they needed a break to jump-start the comeback. Still down 15 points, UT punted late in the third period.
But Vanderbilt's Broderick Stewart plowed into punter Britton Colquitt and was flagged for a personal foul, resulting in a first down.
"There's no way he (the official) couldn't call that," said Colquitt. "He really nailed me.
"I didn't even have to act."
Given a second chance, the Vols went on to score 16 fourth-quarter points and sustain their SEC East hopes.
"A lesser team would have bagged it," said Fulmer.
"It got back to will and pride and the want-to, of not failing."
And, to a kick that drifted just a little bit to the left.
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276.