The 200 or so fans who made it to Neyland Stadium on Thursday night own bragging rights. They saw Tennessee’s best quarterback play of the season.
To be fair to Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens, the competition wasn’t exactly SEC-caliber in the Vols’ 37-21 junior varsity win over Hargrave Military Academy.
Still, redshirt freshman B.J. Coleman grabbed his opportunity and ran with it, passing for 325 yards and two touchdowns.
“It took me one play to get back into the rhythm,’’ Coleman said afterward. “I’m thankful to get out here with these guys I’ve been working with for two years.
“I’m trying to work as hard as I can to get to a real opportunity, to where I can get a shot on Saturday.’’
That could come on Nov. 22 when the Vols (3-7) play at Vanderbilt. Tennessee has an open date this weekend.
Offensive coordinator Dave Clawson observed from the press box. While he had a big smile and a handshake for Coleman, Clawson deferred comment to sideline coach Jim Bob Cooter.
“It’s up in the air,’’ said Coleman. “We’re going back to practice this week and work hard and hopefully things will go good.’’
That would be a new direction for UT’s varsity quarterbacks. Neither Crompton nor Stephens has been able to generate any consistent production and both have been plagued by mistakes.
Coleman, meanwhile, has played only a couple of snaps in the win over UAB on Sept. 13.
However, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Coleman showed no signs of rust, finishing 22-of-31 and hitting a variety of passes.
The former Chattanooga McCallie High School standout connected on nine of his first 11 passes, including a 5-of-5 possession as the Vols drove 83 yards for their first touchdown.
Coleman hit fullback Ben Bartholomew for a 5-yard score and a 6-0 lead.
Hargrave (10-1) took a 13-9 lead when Jonathan Meeks returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown with 46 seconds left in the first half. That was ample time for Coleman to regain momentum.
He hit Tyler Maples for a 23-yard strike, then found the former Maryville High standout again for a 24-yard touchdown with 15 seconds to go.
Maples had four catches. Ahmad Paige led with five.
“All the balls I caught were perfect balls,’’ Maples said. “The credit goes to him. He put the ball on the money.’’
“The ball,’’ added Paige, “was where it needed to be. That’s the kind of quarterback we need.’’
But not often the kind of quarterback UT has seen this year.
Coleman’s 325 passing yards doubles the Vols’ passing output in six out of 10 games. Tennessee’s entire offense hasn’t produced that many yards in the eight games since UAB.
“Everybody has their bumps in the road,’’ Coleman said. “Some times you’ve got to take a step back to go two forward.
“I think the Tennessee Vols will be back. Sometimes you’ve got to go through trials and tribulations so you can get a little more mature and have some perseverance.’’
Tennessee’s defense created two second-half scores. Tyler Wolf’s goal-line interception and 71-yard return set the table for Tanner Shamblin to hit tight end Ben Lehning with a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Defensive end Phillip Tritapoe sacked Hargrave quarterback Kevin Newsome, forcing a fumble at the Hargrave 28.
After Coleman found Paige for a 13-yard gain, Bartholomew rumbled 15 yards for a touchdown.
Sam Edgemon’s 1-yard plunge capped a 14-play drive to make it 37-13.
But Coleman was the story.
“The main thing I really wanted was to manage the football game the way it needs to be managed,’’ he said.
“And dynamics is a very important part of the game. I wanted to bring something to the table that not everybody’s got.
“And also tempo. I thought we were in and out of the huddle good.’’
How they scored
Hargrave 0 13 0 8 -- 21
UT 6 10 14 7 -- 37
UT 6, Hargrave 0: Ben Bartholomew 5 pass from B.J. Coleman (kick failed).
10 plays, 83 yards, 5:25
Hargrave 7, UT 6: Tyler King 5 run (Troy Krepich kick).
7 plays, 65 yards, 2:43
UT 9, Hargrave 7: Devin Mathis 23 field goal.
10 plays, 63 yards, 4:07
Hargrave 13, UT 9: Jonathan Meeks 91 kickoff return (kick blocked).
1 play, 91 yards, 16 seconds
UT 16, Hargrave 13: Tyler Maples 24 pass from Coleman (Mathis kick).
2 plays, 52 yards, 23 seconds
UT 23, Hargrave 13: Ben Lehning 14 pass from Tanner Shamblin (Mathis kick).
5 plays, 29 yards, 2:26.
UT 30, Hargrave 13: Batholomew 15 run (Mathis kick).
2 plays, 28 yards, 35 seconds
UT 37, Hargrave 13: Sam Edgemon 1 run (Mathis kick)
14 plays, 81 yards, 6:46
UT 37, Hargrave 21: Phillip Lefebvre 2 pass from Kevin Newsome (Newsome run).
9 plays, 64 yards, 5:07