Vols outlast Kentucky, win SEC East

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge celebrates with the crowd after a 52-50 win over Kentucky in four overtimes.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge celebrates with the crowd after a 52-50 win over Kentucky in four overtimes.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The road from Berkeley to Atlanta was long, winding and fraught with close calls. Why should the last mile have been any different?

It wasn’t. It topped everything that had come before.

Tennessee realized its once-unthinkable SEC East title Saturday, but not before it outlasted Kentucky 52-50 in four heart-stopping overtimes that left a crowd of 69,813 at Commonwealth Stadium limp.

“Here we are,” said UT coach Phillip Fulmer. “Several weeks ago we were given up for dead and we’re going to Atlanta to play for a championship.”

The 19th-ranked Vols (9-3, 6-2 SEC) win the Eastern Division by virtue of a 35-14 head-to-head tie-breaking victory over Georgia on Oct. 6. The Bulldogs also finished 6-2.

Tennessee faces SEC West champion LSU (10-2) on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 4 p.m.) in the Georgia Dome. The winner is the conference champion and advances to the Sugar Bowl.

Tennessee has won eight of its past nine games since it left Florida a 59-20 loser on Sept. 15 — and five in a row since being routed at Alabama on Oct. 20.

But linebacker Jerod Mayo doesn’t want anyone jumping on the bandwagon now.

“This team thrives on the negativity from the media and the fans,” said Mayo. “I don’t want anybody to pick us to win this game — anybody at all.

“Then we’ll probably go down there and get the job done.”

They got the job done Saturday, although it would have been a lot less taxing had the Vols not blown a 31-14 lead with 1:31 left to play in the third quarter.

While Tennessee’s offense did next to nothing after building a 24-7 halftime lead, Kentucky (7-5, 3-5) roared back and tied the game 31-31 on Lones Seiber’s 20-yard field goal as time expired.

Seiber, the sophomore from Central High School, had a chance to end Tennessee’s 22-year domination when he lined up a 34-yard field goal in the second overtime with the score tied 38-38.

Dan Williams blocked the kick, however, and the Vols and Wildcats wrestled for two more overtimes.

Both teams scored a touchdown in the third overtime, but neither could convert the mandatory two-point conversion attempt.

UT had a chance to end the game on its conversion but Arian Foster was stopped on a run, leaving the score knotted at 44-44.

Foster spiked the ball in frustration and was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The 15-yard dead-ball foul meant Tennessee began the fourth overtime at its 40 instead of the 25.

The Vols, however, got it all in one play when Ainge found Quintin Hancock running free for a 40-yard touchdown.

“Scoring on the first play took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” admitted Foster.

The two-point conversion pass to Austin Rogers put UT up 52-44.

But then the Vols had to play defense. Kentucky’s Derrick Locke scored on a two-yard run to make it 52-50.

The game ended when Tennessee’s Antonio Reynolds tackled quarterback Andre Woodson on the two-point conversion try.

After 4 hours, 43 minutes, the Vols could finally celebrate.

“We’ve got to thank God,” said Ainge. “We probably should have lost that football game about four times over.

“But the heart of this team is second to absolutely none in this country.

“That’s kind of the story of this season. When we need it, we get it.”

Kentucky was crushed. The nation’s longest rivalry winning streak lives on at 23 years.

“This was a tough loss,” said Kentucky guard Jason Leger. “Since I came here, Tennessee was the team that I wanted to beat.

“This is the toughest loss for me while I’ve been at Kentucky.”

Once it got to overtime, the Vols had to be feeling confident. UT is 7-1 all time in overtime and has won six consecutive games.

“What a way to make a living, huh?” said Fulmer.

The four overtimes bloated the statistics but a CBS television audience got a pretty fair duel from two senior quarterbacks.

Ainge was 28 of 45 for 397 yards and seven touchdowns.

Woodson was 39-of-62 for 430 yards and six touchdowns.

Kentucky ran 110 offensive plays for 564 yards.

Tennessee ran 82 plays for 520 yards.

Foster rushed for 118 yards and caught nine passes for 98 more.

Ainge and Foster hooked up for a 65-yard touchdown on the first snap of the game. An 18-yard TD pass to Lucas Taylor made it a 14-0 lead, still in the first quarter.

UT was in control 17-7 when an Xavier Mitchell’s interception set up what appeared at the time to be an early knockout punch.

Mitchell’s return to the Kentucky 17 preceded a 15-yard scoring pass from Ainge to Hancock. UT led 24-7 with just 17 seconds left in the half.

But in the second half, Tennessee was stuck in neutral. The Vols’ only score — a 2-yard Ainge pass to Jeff Cottam — came after Wes Brown’s recovery of a Woodson fumble at the Kentucky 30 gave the offense a short field.

Still, a 31-14 lead looked solid.

It wasn’t.

With Woodson in a rhythm, Kentucky cut it to 31-28 with 6:11 to play. The Vols then failed to make a first down on two possessions.

Kentucky took over at its 9 with 3:32 to play and drove 91 yards for Seiber’s field goal to force overtime.

That just meant a whole new game was beginning.

“Coach Fulmer tells us every week there’s ebbs and flows in the game,” said Mayo, “and you’ve just got to ride with ’em ’til you come out on top.”

And Tennessee found a way — or ways — to come out on top.

“I couldn’t ask any more from this team,” said Fulmer.

Then he quickly added:

“Except for one more.”

Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 270

mdvol writes:

Make my ring a size 11 please. WOW!

amyslins writes:

HOW BOUT THEM VOLS!!!!

mdvol writes:

Need two together! Lower level!

ThurmondEppy writes:

CHEW ON THAT YOU HATERS.

TommyJack writes:

Once again, talent overcomes coaching.

route33 writes:

WOW!!How bout those Vols!!! Fulmer Fooled you Foolmer haters! I say Great Job Phiilip Fulmer and the rest of the VOLS!

tigervol9802 writes:

I don't know whether to be happy or mad.

Oh well, at least SEC tickets just got a lot cheaper!

vol_in_lsu_land writes:

Heck Yeah!!!!!!

And we are STILL going to hear it. Just wait. How many games straight is this now?

Oh I can just hear it....This was KY, we squeaked by the bottom dweller of the conference, oh how the mighty have fallen...Does that sound about right?

The same KY team that beat the SEC west champs. The same KY team that has an NFL caliber QB. The same KY team putting up SEC leading offensive stats....Instead of "Oh how the lowly have risen", the words of negativety will ring.

And we still beat them. We beat all the teams that counted. Florida, Bama, Arkansas, Vandy, Kentucky, and Georgia (LMAO) will all be sitting on the couch with a bag of popcorn. It's LSU and my Tennessee Vols playing for the crown.

LSU is beatable. There is still the emotional stress of Les Miles and Michigan (probably contributed to last night's loss). There is the drain of the NC let-down. They could be either very hungry to prove something or very down in the dumps. They could be distracted or focused. If last night is any indication, I think Tennessee has the edge in Atlanta next weekend.

Go Vols, beat these obnoxious Bayou Bengals and give me bragging rights here in Baton Rouge!

utclassof1992 writes:

And guys, we backed into this CG appearance. Ill take it, but Ill not be crowing from the roof tops. We have some serious work to do. This week, bowl week, and off-season. We can do better than this.

DenmarkVol_aka_Mbumburu writes:

I have to say it: this team certainly seems like they've found their personality. I'm talking about HEART and CHARACTER.

There's something special about these guys...

Congrats to Chavis and the defensive coaching staff -- good job on Woodson.

UTByrd writes:

If there wasn't penalty yardage assessed against Kentucky when they tried to jerk Berry's head off (He would have scored), why was UT penalized for unsportsmanlike for an innocent "delay of game" especially when there is no clock being kept? I feel we can beat LSU if we don't rush 3 DL in the 4th. Love them VOLS!!!

utman67#212819 writes:

To all you Fulmer Haters I have been reading week after week after week, TENNESSEE VOLS, 2007 SEC East Champs!!!!!!! I'll take another glass of orange kool-aid please. Say what you want about the coaching, this team has shown as much heart and resiliancy as I have seen ANY UT team I have watched in my 40 years of life. Let me say it again to the Fulmer haters out there (especially crvol, who I'll say this loudly): UT VOLS, 2007 SEC EAST CHAMPS!!!!!! GO BIG ORANGE!!!!!!

mdvol writes:

No worries about the next TWO being on NATIONAL TV!

b.skelton#207404 writes:

Vols offense played a splendid OT, with the exception of Ainge's INT. Defense was disappointing in 2nd half and OT. Well, let me back up, SECONDARY was disappointing. Don't play 15 yards off the receiver at the 10 yard line. I am happy for the VOLS and coaching staff. They worked hard and took advantage of opportunities that cam up during the end stretch run of the season. Go Vols, all the way to Bourbon Street!

texan writes:

POOR COACHING AND LUCK.

CrankE writes:

Living in Georgia, I sure am glad to see them win.

However, I can't help but lament the unnecessary 4OT drama. On offense, UT needed only to score anything in the fourth quarter to put it out of reach. They failed. The receivers went cold and couldn't convert for UT.

On defense, I can picture in my head all of the missed opportunities that they had to stop UK scoring drives.
UK converting a million third down opportunities on their first scoring drive.
Woodson converting on 3rd and 13 after a sack when they made it 31-28.
Eric Berry being robbed of the INT at the 40
Eric Berry almost making the INT on the final UK drive in regulation.
Brent Vinson almost making the INT on the final UK drive in regulation (in the end zone).

That being said, UK was all that and a biscuit, but 2 points short at the end. Order restored: Wildcats lose, UT goes to Atlanta, and UGA sits at home!

utclassof1992 writes:

I am a Fulmer hater. Proud of it too. I love the players, but Foolmer still stinks. We almost gave this one away due to a bad second half gameplan. Players-2007 East Champs, Fulmer-2007 East Chump.

utclassof1992 writes:

Exactly, houtx

TommyJack writes:

utman67: The team DOES show heart. The coaching shows the other end. Get off the ether...this program needs help.

NCCOLTSFAN writes:

Hey!
Would it be possible for all of us to enjoy this victory and be happy???
Or must the name calling continue?
Ans vol_in_lsu_land: I am waiting on an apology please sir!
Go Vols!
anyone seen my heart pills!!!!

vol_in_lsu_land writes:

DCSOvol, what exactly did we do wrong? We won! We had the better game plan and came out tough in the first half. Yeah, we got conservative (a little) in the second half and the lead got nibbled away...but watch the rest of college football. We aren't the only team or coaching staff that plays conservative with a lead.

And even while we played conservatively, we did take some risks. Fulmer went for it on 4th down a couple of times, just as many people here have been begging for...He placed confidence in his offense. It didn't work out a couple of times.

I think what we've been seeing is a group of Vol players who are giving it 110% in the first half and wearing themselves out. In the second half they SEEM lethargic but in reality I think they're just tired from all the emotion from the first half. THESE ARE KIDS, not wealthy professional athletes.

They gave their all for Tennessee this evening and I'm proud of them. They are champions no matter what happens next week.

Go Vols...Tame those Bayou Bengals!!!

utclassof1992 writes:

I am happy. And I still want a new coaching staff. Im going to Atlanta. I will scream until I am hoarse. Doesnt mean I have to like Fulmer.

ibvolman writes:

It was a great win for the Vols, and good that they have made it to the SECCG. However, this game should have never been this close. The Vols dominated the first 30 min, and then went to sleep the last 30 min of regulation. Even the commentators made reference to how it appeared the Vols were a little too conservative on a couple of 2nd half drives. Hope the coaching staff learns something from this...you can't let up on anyone, or it will come back to bite you.

The OT touchdown catch by Jones was sensational. Great job, and definite show of heart to pull out the win.

ALLVOL12 writes:

DESTINY

Titan writes:

TDTN - get off the Vandy missed field goal song. We missed a field goal too which you never mention. You what if on one of them, you got to what if on everything. And clue me in - what the heck is your spotted ape?

vol_in_lsu_land writes:

"Posted by NCCOLTSFAN on November 24, 2007 at 6:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hey!
Would it be possible for all of us to enjoy this victory and be happy???
Or must the name calling continue?
Ans vol_in_lsu_land: I am waiting on an apology please sir!
Go Vols!"

??????????????

Please explain, what do I need to apologize for?
anyone seen my heart pills!!!!

mdvol writes:

Two things LSU hasn't done this year.... Beat Arkansas and Beat Kentucky. But I know who has!!!

eefor10c writes:

DCSOvol, "We backed into this CG appearance." We beat Georgia who is tied with us. Simple tie-breaker. Yes, we lost to Floria and Bama but they lost more games than we. Georgia beat Florida, we beat Florida. KY beat LSU, we beat KY. Arkansas beat LSU, We beat Arkansas. "We" can do better than this. Do not include yourself when you refer to the Vols.

utclassof1992 writes:

I will not accept that second half and think that all is rosy in the world. Without blind dumb luck, we lose to UK. Ill take the win, but that second half collapse was awful.

TommyJack writes:

I AM happy. Roof, roof, roof, dawgs..har-har

lnbadger320 writes:

great win, never should have gotten that far. Slade and Chavis still need to go. it's gonna be an interesting SEC Champ game..

ibvolman writes:

One thing I still can't get it why to DB's play soft on the corners, and let the receivers run free to make a play. For example, KY OT touchdowns, both to the same corner, one a catch and run, one a simple fade. For crying out loud, get in the receiver's face and bump him off the line. Too many passes now days are pure timing routes, and something has to happen to disrupt the timing.

Anyway, good win for the Vols. I still think the Secondary coaching is a bit soft.

lnbadger320 writes:

one more thing, nothing does my heart better than knowing that GA dogs were this close [] to going to ATL but watching it fumble away.

gillblog writes:

So many missed chances to win.... so many mistakes that UK could have exploited.....embarrassingly porous pass defense even in the last game of the season....too many bad decisions by Woodson....after all of the above, winning this game was like winning at pitching pennies; eventually somebody has to win but it may have nothing at all to do with who is the better player. I'm happy we're going to Atl but the only thing I saw from the Vols today was winning by attrition. Next year, there will be no Eric Ainge to pull our butts out of the fires Fulmer and Co set. Why do I feel like I have been saved from a kitchen fire because the kitchen faucet I never fixed leaks so badly a flood put out the fire.

utclassof1992 writes:

I am a Vol fan, and you may blow it out your backside. La, La, La. The kool aid is great and all is good with the world. Ill take Atlanta, but Im not gonna turn flips. This team still needs something, but Im a bad fan for saying what it is. Whatever. GO VOLS!!! EAST CHAMPS!!! FULMER STILL STINKS!!!!!

NCCOLTSFAN writes:

vol_in_lsu_land:
You guys KILL me. Yes, it was a barnburner. Yes it made my heart stop a few times...but they played like heck, and the coaches coached like heck, and we are playing a BEATABLE LSU team for the SEC.

What more can you fools ask for?
It's one thing to call us haters and losers and negative, or even idiots.But to call another person a fool is dangerous.
But.Forget it.
I love the Vols as much as you.
Now,I am going to enjoy my evening and see if I can find tickets to Atlanta.
God bless all!

mdvol writes:

Did we cover the over?

route33 writes:

You can call it luck or whatever!! Uhh, where is FLA and the rest of the sec teams next sat night? This team is VERY young and has got HEART!! They have heard alot this season from the so called Big Orange fans!! U gave up,but Fulmer, the coaching staff, the Team and us TRUE BIG ORANGE FANS, DID NOT GIVE UP'! ITS GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL!!

nickperkinsalc#627224 writes:

One of the best football games I have ever seen!!

utclassof1992 writes:

Always want more!!! That means you havent quit trying.

TommyJack writes:

gillblog: You are right on the money, bro

CrankE writes:

Inbadger, I thinkg UGA was closer, like ][. I live down here, so believe me, I love it. Like 2004, a higher ranked, media-adored Georgia team will sit at home and watch UT play for the SEC marbles.

thesavageorange writes:

gillblog : Why do I feel like I have been saved from a kitchen fire because the kitchen faucet I never fixed leaks so badly a flood put out the fire.
Thats a great way of putting it.But at least we're not georgia(the firefighters outside who wasted their time).I could hear the collective breath taken from them from Atl to Nashville.

arkyvol writes:

phil fulmer, you're the greatest!!!

utclassof1992 writes:

Amen gillblog. Or like Jar Jar Binks during that battle in the Phantom Menace. Star Wars Fans will understand that one.

DaveVol writes:

Great Coaching job to get these kids in the championship game. Receivers need to catch those 3rd down passes, it would have ended the game in regulation.

GoVols!

VOLINSC writes:

Go Vols - I will see all of you in ATL!

qball77 writes:

I cannot believe it. Wow...I am worn out.

ThurmondEppy writes:

I live in ATL and have endured 5 million smart a** texts, emails and phone calls from the Dawgs pulling for KY. I am not sure if I am happier because we're going to the SEC or because GA is not. Believe me, if you lived down here and had to endure their insufferable yapping you'd feel the same way too.

GO VOLS!!! BEAT LSU!!!

BigOrangeInCarolina writes:

I am still wearing my lucky pajamas. Time to take them off til next week. I want to congratulate the players for not giving up. DBs still need to learn to wrap up instead of thinking they can knock somebody down. WRs almost cost the game in the 4th after the interception all but gave us the game. If the play-calling hadn't gone conservative the game would have finished in regulation. Too many opportunities for UK to win, but like Coach Fulmer said- "Never doubt the heart of a Volunteer". We'll take the win, and the championship. Don't forget, people- Alabubba, Tim Teabag and the hairy Dawgs are going to be sitting at home next week, and our beloved Volunteers will be in Hotlanta going for the sugar!!!!! GO BIG ORANGE!!!!!!

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