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Tennessee Volunteers nearly shock Alabama Crimson Tide but fall 10-12

Commence the 15-minute immediate post-game mostly incoherent and heartbroken ramblings on Tennessee's loss to Alabama.

Sigh. Three or four or countless of them, actually.

Alabama's the No. 1 team in the nation. They were better than us -- much better -- in the eyes of many voters and bytes of many computers. The stats said they would dominate. There's no scoring against the Tide's excellent defense, which were at the top of the rankings in most categories.

But there we were, hoping . . . actually, I think we may have even been expecting . . . a victory with four seconds left on the clock.

It was something of a miracle that we were even there with those thoughts and emotions riding on the foot of Daniel Lincoln. We'd actually outgained them and appeared to dominate the second half.

Actually putting points on the board, though, that was a problem. While Alabama had scored four field goals -- yes, we held the Tide to zero touchdowns -- including one from 50 and one from 49, we'd missed one from forty-something and had another forty-something attempt blocked. "Blocked" may not be the best word. I'm not entirely sure that the ball would have cleared the helmets of our own players had it not first been batted down by Terrence Cody, who'd busted through the line. Having an attempt blocked late in the game felt like that was it. We'd given them a good game but come up short.

But one thing you must concede about this team is that it doesn't quit. The defense held. The punter pinned the Tide back at the three yard line or so. The defense stripped the ball from the normally dependable Mark Ingram just as the announcers were praising the Heisman flavor of the week, and Eric Berry -- the Heisman flavor of seven weeks ago -- recovered.

Even with all of that, though, it seemed like the game was out of hand. Close, but unwinnable for the Vols. Nobody on either team's offense had been able to get a touchdown. Surely that wouldn't change now.

But it did. Miracle of miracles, our offense drove the ball down the field and actually got into the end zone bringing the score to 12-10 with 1:19 left.

But the still felt mostly out of reach. Because how often does a team actually recover an onside kick anyway?

But we did.

And we drove.

And we got Daniel Lincoln into field goal range with four seconds left, giving him an opportunity to make like James Wilhoit version 2004 and go from goat to hero in the space of 30 minutes.

Sigh. It was a 44-yard attempt, and we should have been able to hit it, go up 13-12, and knock our biggest rival off their No. 1 perch at their place.

More sighs. The kick was again low. Terrence Cody again blew up the line and blocked the kick. The game conclude with Alabama up 12-10 and their players running around the place like maniacs. Like they'd just beaten a good team.

There will be talk of "moral victories," whatever those are. Some will say simply that Alabama didn't play well, that they were coming off a long streak of tough games. That it was a trap game. That the dramatic finish was more about Alabama than it was Tennessee.

Fine, but Vol fans know. This team is improving and has been improving since Lane Kiffin arrived. He and the chimera know what they are doing, and the progress the team is making can no longer be denied. Was this game really any different than the old times when national rankings for both teams made the game nationally relevant?

We're not there yet. But we're getting there, and we're gaining momentum. And "moral victory" or not, there is no shame in enjoying the fact that we are once again competitive with the best teams in the nation only seven games into the Chimera Era. Considering where we were a mere 11 months ago, that's something to celebrate.