Vols Rally for OT Win, 27-21
BY DREW EDWARDS
-- Twice last season, Tennessee celebrated in vain. First at LSU, then
in the Music City Bowl against North Carolina, joy turned into
On Saturday night in Neyland Stadium,
Tennessee celebrated in the south end zone, only to have it interrupted
for an official review.
But only interrupted.
eventually ruled that the Vols' game-winning interception return was
good for a touchdown, giving Tennessee a 27-21 victory over Vanderbilt
and moving it one step closer to clinching a bowl berth.
"The black cloud over Knoxville blew away tonight, and we got a little sunshine," UT coach Derek Dooley said.
But for a minute, it looked like the Vols might get caught in another downpour.
the first possession of overtime, UT defensive back Eric Gordon
intercepted Jordan Rodgers' pass, stumbled and continued 90 yards down
the far sideline for a touchdown.
Officials initially said
Gordon fumbled the ball and recovered it with his knee on the ground.
In a flash, Tennessee's players ended their celebration in the
southwest corner of the stadium and started clamoring for Dooley to
challenge the call.
Following the game, Dooley pointed out that
rules prohibit a coach from challenging whether or not a runner was
down. But because officials didn't stop the play, it was eligible for
an official review.
Moments later, the Vols were celebrating
again. In the press box, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney skipped to
the elevator in a rush to join the Vols in the locker room.
"We finally got a break!" Chaney yelled.
Tennessee got more than one -- and made a few more along the way.
jumping out to a 14-7 lead at halftime in Tyler Bray's return to the
field after missing five games with a broken thumb, the Vols'
second-half woes appeared to set in again.
On the Vols' second
possession of a scoreless third quarter, Vandy linebacker Archibald
Barnes intercepted Bray in the end zone and returned it 100 yards to
tie the game at 14-14.
Then, after pinning the Vols deep in
their own territory, Vanderbilt took a 21-14 when Rodgers found Chris
Boyd for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 12:21 remaining.
now 5-6 and 1-6 in SEC play, answered right back, with a heavy dose of
the run -- and the kind of good fortune that hasn't exactly been a
regular occurrence this season.
After UT's drive, which began at
its 20-yard line, stalled at the Vandy 5, Michael Palardy came on for a
23-yard field goal attempt. The kick appeared to be blocked, but
Vandy's Sean Richardson was flagged for running into the kicker.
Vandy coach James Franklin challenged the call, asserting that Richardson had in fact touched the ball.
Officials upheld their initial ruling on the field, even if Dooley offered a different assessment after the game.
wasn't a block. It was a kick up the center's tail," he said. "We got a
break there. I couldn't put the field goal team out there again after
that. I just wanted to go for it."
So on fourth down, Da'Rick
Rogers hauled in a pass from Bray with one hand to tie the game at
21-21 with 6:27 left in regulation.
"At that point, I was just
thinking this is the first blocked kick I've ever been excited for,"
said Rogers, whose 116-yard performance against the Commodores pushed
him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. "Thank God (Dooley) put
the offense back on the field."
Tennessee's defense stole the show the rest of the way.
the teams traded punts, Vanderbilt took over with 2:02 left and
promptly moved to the UT 40 with a little less than a minute remaining.
On second down, Prentiss Waggner intercepted Rodgers and ended any
chance of a Vanderbilt win in regulation.
Moments later -- a
couple of them agonizingly long -- the Vols were celebrating Gordon's
dramatic dash to the end zone and the first defensive touchdown in
overtime since Ohio defeated Pitt on an interception return TD in 2005.
a team that has struggled in the second half of SEC games all season
finally had a performance to remember in the last 30 minutes.
is the first game it's been a one-score game in the fourth quarter,"
Dooley said. "I was worried how we would handle it. We handled it
beautifully. We kept fighting and won the fourth quarter."
It wasn't always pretty, though.
struggled at times on punts, and Palardy's low field goal attempt
wasn't one for the highlight reel. Fighting through pain in his right
thumb, Bray was just 16-for-33 for 189 yards with two interceptions and
"It was horrible," Bray said of his performance. "I think I completed more passes to the other team than I did to ours."
But several of the Vols' 16 seniors made a huge impact in their final game at Neyland Stadium.
Poole, along with a more physical performance from the offensive line,
helped awaken the Vols' foundering ground game with 107 rushing yards
and a touchdown. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson forced a fumble that
led to Tennessee's first touchdown of the game, and linebacker Austin
Johnson picked off his team-best fourth pass in five games.
result was a victory over Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-6 SEC), which many favored
to win, and a continued chance to become bowl eligible with a win at
Kentucky on Saturday (TV: SEC Network, 12:21 p.m. ET).
"I tell you, I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a football team in all my years," Dooley said. "It was just a great win."