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Tennessee Stat Book
ATLANTA — It might turn out be the most important 62 seconds of the season.
That’s all it took Friday night for Tennessee to seize control of the 2012 season-opener and convert it to a 35-21 win over North Carolina State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
A stunning series of big plays at the end of the first quarter led to 16 quick Tennessee points. The Vols made it stand up to snap a six-game losing streak at the Georgia Dome that dates back to the 1998 SEC Championship Game.
And a pivotal season is off on the right foot with a marquee win.
“It’s one game,’’ UT coach Derek Dooley said. “All that matters is we’re one-and-oh.
“We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back because we won one game. We’ve got to go clean up a ton of mistakes and then go on to the next game.’’
Cordarrelle Patterson helped clean up some of the mistakes. The junior-college signee was electrifying in his UT debut, scoring on a 41-yard pass and a 67-yard run.
Tyler Bray heaved a pair of touchdown bombs en route to a 333-yard passing performance. The first was to new arrival Patterson, then came a 72-yarder to Zach Rogers.
Rajion Neal scored on an 8-yard run. Michael Palardy kicked two field goals.
The defense gave ground — 407 yards of it — but stopped five N.C. State drives with big plays.
Prentiss Waggner, Byron Moore, Eric Gordon and Marsalis Teague intercepted Mike Glennon passes and Curt Maggitt forced a Glennon fumble that turned into a safety.
The game turned at the end of the first quarter. The Wolfpack led 7-6 after an early exchange of touchdowns.
The Vols struck first on Bray’s 41-yard bomb to Patterson. Hardly anyone noticed during the celebration that Palardy missed the extra point.
The Wolfpack drove the ball 86 yards in 10 plays to take a 7-6 lead on Tony Creecy’s 2-yard run.
State was driving again and called timeout with 1:31 left in the quarter to decide how to approach a fourth-and-3 situation at the Tennessee 35.
Glennon’s pass ended up in the hands of Waggner, who raced all the way to the N.C. State 25.
A roar from the pro-Tennessee crowd of 55,529 turned into a groan when a holding penalty during the return brought the ball back to the Vols’ 28. In essence, a 47-yard penalty.
Bray got it back and then some. On first down, he play-faked and found Rogers running deep for a 72-yard score and a 13-7 lead.
State’s first snap after the kickoff was another disaster.
Maggitt knocked the ball loose from a retreating Glennon, and it rolled into the end zone for a safety.
Up 15-7, Tennessee received the kickoff after the safety at its 33 with 45 seconds left in the half.
On the first snap Patterson lined up in the backfield, took a handoff around end, cut back across the field and sprinted down the sideline for a 67-yard touchdown.
Just like that — 16 points in a span of 38 seconds to go up 22-7.
Only 1:02 had run off the clock since N.C. State called the play that led to Waggner’s interception that started the dominoes tumbling.
“They always say turnover ratio and big plays are the difference between winning and losing,’’ Dooley said.
He got an amen from N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien.
“What it boiled down to,’’ O’Brien said, “was too many big plays we gave up on defense.
“And four interceptions, you can’t win when you do that.’’
There was no Tennessee knockout punch, however. Not just yet.
The Wolfpack got the only score of the second quarter, driving 67 yards for James Washington’s 2-yard touchdown to make it 22-14.
The Vols’ defense almost dodged a bullet. Almost.
On the play before the score, Glennon fumbled but center Camden Wentz fell on the ball at the 2.
Tennessee had 3:42 left in the half to answer and nearly did.
Bray directed a crisp drive, mixing passes and runs, from the Vols’ 25 for a first-and-goal at the Wolfpack 5.
Neal charged to the 1 with time running down. On third-and-goal, Bray tried to sneak, stretching the ball to the goal line but N.C. State’s Brandan Bishop knocked the ball loose and the Wolfpack recovered.
The replay official reviewed the call and it stood, much to the frustration of the Tennessee sideline and crowd, who believed Bray had gotten the ball across the plane of the goal line.
The third quarter saw the Vols stage their best drive of the night, 87 yards in 14 plays. Neal finished it with an 8-yard TD run for a 29-14 lead.
Moore’s interception gave UT a chance to ice the game, but the Vols settled for just chilling it.
Marlin Lane’s 42-yard run to the Wolfpack 3 got the Vols to the brink, but they bogged down and came away with a 20-yard Palardy field goal.
If not quite the result UT wanted, it still made it 32-14, a three-score deficit for N.C. State.
The Wolfpack had only one score left in them — James Washington’s 2-yard run with 13:46 to play.
Down 32-21, N.C. State got the ball back, but not for long. Gordon took it away with the third interception of the night.
As the crowd headed out to celebrate, Palardy added a 34-yard field goal with 1:44 left, after which Teague made an end-zone interception with seconds to play.
Bray finished 27 of 41 passing for 333 yards. N.C. State All-American cornerback David Amerson did not add to career interception total. Nor did any other Wolfpack defender.
The Vols rushed 37 times for 191 yards with Lane’s 75 taking honors. All told, Tennessee amassed 524 yards of offense.
Having won in Atlanta, the Vols are back home on Sept. 8 to play a team from Atlanta – Georgia State.
“It’s always important to get the first one out of the way,’’ said Moore, “so now we can focus on getting another one next week.’’