Tennessee Stat Book
LEXINGTON, Ky. — The game lasted four overtimes and almost five hours. But when it finally ended, Tennessee players didn’t want to leave.
You couldn’t blame them.
This was their finest moment. And this is how they will be remembered.
Forget what happened against Florida or Alabama. Or what almost happened against Vanderbilt eight days ago or against Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.
The Vols blew a 17-point lead against Kentucky but didn’t blow the game. A potentially monumental collapse turned into a classic victory, 52-50 in four overtimes.
The game reflected a regular season fraught with sudden twists and turns. The Vols were up and down, then up and down again. But all that mattered was where they stood at the end: Way up.
The Vols had won 22 consecutive games against Kentucky. They never had won like this.
So when they made the last crucial play in a game of crucial plays, they weren’t ready to run to the locker room. They were ready to celebrate.
Not only had they beaten Kentucky for the 23rd consecutive time, they had won the SEC East.
How fitting that the last play came in the corner of Commonwealth Stadium manned by UT fans. Seconds after defensive end Antonio Reynolds dragged down Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson on an ill-fated two-point conversion attempt, UT players ran toward the nearby band and fans. As the band played “Rocky Top,” UT players and coaches jumped for joy.
The Kentucky fans booed when the band struck up “Rocky Top” at halftime. They didn’t have anything left for the post-game encore.
Nobody outside of Philadelphia boos a four-overtime game. There’s too much to applaud.
UT fans should save the loudest ovation for defensive tackle Dan Williams.
A week earlier, UT players stood by helplessly as Vanderbilt kicker Bryan Hahnfeldt’s last-second, 49-yard field goal drifted toward the goal posts behind them. When the ball grazed an upright, the Vols were saved by inches.
They had to save themselves against the Wildcats.
Lones Seiber, a former Central High School kicker, had the Vols in his sights. This wasn’t a long shot. It was a chip shot — a 34-yard field goal, straight away.
Finally, after all the years and all the losses, the end of the streak was clearly in sight for Kentucky fans. Then, Williams blocked their view, rising slightly above the thicket at the line of scrimmage to block a kick, which barely got off the runway.
“They made a great surge in the middle and got up real high,” Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. “The kick was a little low.”
It’s always a little something with Kentucky in this series. A kick gets blocked, or a play gets botched. The turnovers and turnarounds invariably go UT’s way.
Like South Carolina and Vanderbilt before it, Kentucky gave UT another chance. And the Vols seized it with a vengeance.
This was as much about second effort as second chances. No matter how many times a beleaguered UT defense was dissected by Kentucky’s passing game in the second half, it found a way to make a play at the end.
Woodson couldn’t decide whether to run or pass on the game’s last play. His indecision gave Reynolds time to make the tackle from behind.
The game was over, the celebration was on, and the streak was alive.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.