It's getting tough now as we separate these games out, continuing our countdown of the fifty most memorable wins during Phillip Fulmer's seventeen year Tennessee career as head coach.
We wrap up with the five-at-a-time breakdown today, and will be going game-by-game for the Top 25 at a leisurely pace, wrapping everything up as one final farewell to Coach Fulmer before Coach Kiffin hits the sidelines. As always, we welcome your stories and memories from these games...
The list so far...
The writeups so far...
Today, we remember a high scoring comeback, a unique night in Neyland, beating the Gators, and how to start and finish a season in the right way...
30. 2001: #6 Tennessee 38 - Kentucky 35 (Lexington)
"We can't fall behind three scores to these guys."
Down in the end zone at Commonwealth Stadium, my friends and I were watching an incredible turn of events: Kentucky, already up 14-0, was coming right at us again midway through the second quarter. Their offense had been as good as advertised. The Vol secondary had seen better days. And with the postponed showdown with the Gators on the horizon, Tennessee couldn't afford any slip-ups. And we were very, very worried.
"We can't fall behind three scores to these guys."
And then Jared Lorenzen hit Chase Harp, and Kentucky - at this point playing with 16 straight years of frustration - took a 21-0 lead.
I've never seen a crowd expand at halftime, before or since, except this game. The Cats were expecting the usual Tennessee beatdown - Tennessee had scored 50+ on the Cats four years in a row - and the students didn't all come out to play. But when word got around campus that UK was up three scores, suddenly there was a lot more blue in the place for the third quarter kickoff.
The Vols got a critical score that made it 21-7 at the break, and we knew that a quick score to open the second half could instantly turn the whole thing around. And that's exactly what the Vols did, Casey Clausen to Kelley Washington for 49 yards for the score. And when Rashad Moore picked off a batted ball, fumbled into the end zone and Constantin Ritzmann recovered, the Vols had tied the score at 21 in the blink of an eye, and we thought the Cats would lay down and die.
But Kentucky was game to the finish in this one. Derek Abney - who finished with 10 catches for 118 yards - caught a touchdown on the very next drive, and UK was back in front 28-21.
In the 4th quarter, the game belonged to Donte' Stallworth, who was just flat better than anyone Kentucky tried to cover him with. He caught fly pattern TDs of 23 and 38 yards, and the Vols went in front 35-28. But again, don't underestimate J-Lo: he went deep for 62 yards for another touchdown pass, and the Cats tied it at 35.
When Tennessee had to settle for an Alex Walls field goal that gave them a 38-35 lead with 2:49 to play, we were all thinking one thing: "Too much time."
And it almost was. Lorenzen completed two passes for first downs, and then hit Chase Harp inside the Vol 30. But Harp was stripped, the Vols recovered, and Tennessee found another way to break Kentucky hearts. Everyone was ripping our secondary after this one...no way we beat Florida, they said...
29. 2001: #7 Tennessee 26 - #14 LSU 18 (Knoxville)
A unique night in Neyland Stadium, the first game for either team after the events of September 11. And if not for the unfortunate events in the Georgia Dome during the rematch, this game probably goes higher on the list.
Rohan Davey found Michael Clayton well behind the Vol secondary on a 67 yard touchdown pass to open the scoring. And when Casey Clausen threw an interception on the ensuing drive, LSU smelled blood. But a big pick by Rashad Baker ended the threat, and the first half would end with two field goals and a 7-6 LSU lead.
Tennessee took the opening kickoff of the second half and, behind Troy Fleming, went 82 yards in 16 plays, and took an absurd nine minutes off the clock. Clausen bootlegged for the score and a 12-7 lead.
With LSU now geared to stop the run, Randy Sanders unleashed Kelley Washington on the college football world. On this night...The Future was now.
Already in the midst of a pretty good night, KDub split two defenders and caught a laser from Clausen for a 70 yard touchdown and a 19-7 lead. That was just part of his 11 catch, 256 yard night (still a school record for yardage).
The most impressive catch of the night came last: when LSU had closed a 26-7 game to 26-18 and the Vols faced a third and long, Nick Saban called time out. And you, me, everyone in the stadium and everyone on the LSU sideline knew the ball was going to Washington. There was simply nothing they could do about it: KDub pulled in a 30 yarder for a first down (insane stat: 9 of his 11 catches on the night went for first downs), and the Vols milked the clock down to :30 before LSU got it back, and couldn't convert a hail mary. Sadly, the Tigers would have their revenge in December.
28. 2006: #23 Tennessee 35 - #9 California 18 (Knoxville)
Nine months of the worst uncertainty Tennessee Football had known in almost 20 years (at that point) was inhaled when the Vols ran thru the T to open the 2006 season against the Cal Bears, a team Lee Corso had picked earlier in the day to win the National Championship. And in two and a half quarters, the Vols exhaled all of that with great certainty and pure joy.
Because you just didn't know. You didn't know about Erik Ainge, you didn't know about the tailbacks, you didn't know where Robert Meachem had been hiding. And Cal was loaded.
It was subtle at first - a 7-0 lead on a touchdown pass to Chris Brown to give you a little hope. It showed promise when Robert Meachem broke one tackle and went the distance to make it 14-0 at the break.
But it was the third quarter where the Vols definitively put their 2005 demons to bed with three emphatic touchdowns surrounded by two defensive interceptions...
Just watch this...this still makes me smile.
27. 2004: #15 Tennessee 38 - #22 Texas A&M 7 (Cotton Bowl)
Because the only thing better than starting a season the right way is ending it.
We weren't quite sure what to make of the '04 Vols, who used two freshmen quarterbacks until they both got hurt, then made the most of Rick Clausen. Along the way, they'd lost twice to the undefeated Auburn juggernaut, and lost at home to Notre Dame in the game that Erik Ainge was injured in. We were happy to have upset Florida and Georgia and won the East, we just didn't look like the same September team that beat the Gators as injuries had taken their toll.
Turns out, we looked even better in January.
The Vol defense created multiple turnovers from A&M QB Reggie McNeal, and in a game the Vols figured to grind out and hope to survive, they instead put points on the scoreboard early and often. Gerald Riggs ran for 102 yards, Justin Harrell led the defensive effort as MVP, and Rick Clausen took home the offensive MVP honors. Which made people start thinking, "Hey...maybe we should play both Ainge and Clausen together! That'll work great!"
26. 2003: #12 Tennessee 24 - #17 Florida 10 (Gainesville)
The Vols were humbled by the events of 2002 that saw them go from preseason #2 to 8-5. The Gators were humbled by Ron Zook and a heartbreaking loss to a good Miami team the week before, making this an odd matchup for this rivalry in 2003.
Tennessee was looking for their second straight win in The Swamp, and Casey Clausen was 10-0 on the road at this point. Defenses dominated early - helped by the fact that Florida was rotating Ingle Martin and Chris Leak at quarterback. Kevin Simon scored a sack on Leak, and the Vols got a diving out route INT from Mark Jones and a strip by Brandon Johnson to end threats; Florida had the ball inside the Vol 35 4 times in the first half, and got three points.
3-0 remained on the scoreboard for the final play of the first half...and Vol fans everywhere can now say they know what it's like to convert a hail mary. Clausen connected with James Banks off a deflection, and in an instant Tennessee had the lead 7-3.
The Vols extended the lead thanks to a 51 yard bomb from James Wilhoit to open the third, after Clausen kept the drive alive with a 4th down sneak and an unlikely 3rd down scramble. When Florida's drive stalled again, Tennessee went for the haymaker, and Clausen found Bret Smith for 55 yards to the one yard line. A Jabari Davis over-the-pile later, and Tennessee had a two touchdown lead on Florida. In The Swamp. Sounds good, doesn't it?
The Gators made it 17-10 in the 4th. But Clausen again played the fourth quarter brilliantly, using new faces in Jayson Swain and Chris Hannon to get close, and then watching J-Train punch it in from 9 yards away to put the Vols back up two scores. Florida again drove inside the 35, but the Vols had the good fortune of Jason Allen not being called for blatant pass interference, and he scored an interception. Florida's last gasp was snuffed out on 4th down...and just like that, Tennessee had won two straight in Gainesville. Must've been nice, cause it hasn't happened since.
What about you?
As always, we welcome your thoughts and memories from these games...