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The 50 Best Games of the Fulmer Era - #24: Jeff Hall, Freshman from Winchester

On my TiVo, I have seven Tennessee football games in a state of perpetual safety.  These are games that don't exist in stand-alone DVD format (like the National Championship or The Miracle at South Bend), and the only way I've found them in their entireity is by the grace of ESPN Classic or, more recently, CBS College Sports Network.

It's not that they're the most memorable games; they don't coincide with the top seven on this list.  A couple of them are games against lesser opponents that meant nothing in the grand scheme of the season in which they were played. 

What they are, are seven games that are simply compelling from start to finish.  They're extraordinarly well played by both teams, offering drama throughout.  They are games that had me on the edge of my seat when they were originally played, and they're the most fun to go back and watch from start to finish in the here and now.  Perhaps not the most memorable...but the most exciting.  For the sake of trying to sound overly dramatic, we'll call them the magnificent seven.

One is the January 1, 1991 Sugar Bowl between Tennessee and Virginia.  But since that was a Johnny Majors UT squad, it's exempt from this list.  However, the next two games on our countdown are both on it as well.  These are two of the best football games I've ever seen.

Tennessee has had several great kickers in its past, from Fuad Reviez's outstanding career to James Wilhoit's moment of glory.  Perhaps the most famous of the bunch is Jeff Hall.  Not only was he the kicker (and captain) for the 1998 National Championship team, he booted game winners in that season against Syracuse and Florida.  By the time that season rolled around, we had plenty of confidence in #4.

And much of that is because Hall came in as the starter from his freshman season, three years earlier.  In 1995, he was following John Becksvoort, one of the most successful kickers in Tennessee history.  Before Hall was his own legend, he had to create his own name.  And in the second game of his Tennessee career, when none of us knew who he was...he would be immediately given that opportunity.

24. 1995:  #8 Tennessee 30 - Georgia 27 (Knoxville)

The Vols had promise coming into the 1995 season.  Peyton Manning was the quarterback, and there were no more questions about Brandon Stewart.  As a sophomore, Manning was ready to become one of the nation's best players. 

He'd found a target in Joey Kent the season before, and Kent was prepared to become Tennessee's number one receiver as a junior.  There were questions in the backfield with the departure of the James Stewart/Aaron Hayden tandem that had been getting carries since their first game as freshmen at Louisville four years earlier.  But Jay Graham was full of promise.

There was a new defensive coordinator, John Chavis, who took the reigns with a group that included Leonard Little, Bill Duff, Tyrone Hines, Scott Galyon, DeRon Jenkins and Terry Fair.  These Vols would eventually be very, very good - this is a team that would finish the year ranked second in the coaches' poll.

But first, Georgia.

The Dawgs had seen the Eric Zeier years come and go without a division or conference championship, and now with Mike Bobo under center expectations were lowered; the Dawgs were unranked coming into this contest on the season's second weekend.  Tennessee had also beaten Georgia by a combined 50 points the previous two we weren't worried, and this was supposed to be the tune-up for the showdown with Florida the following week.

It took Georgia one drive to prove they weren't to be taken lightly.

Off the opening kick, Georgia drove 80 yards for a touchdown against Chavis' troops, and a theme was quickly developing:  Georgia RB Robert Edwards would be the biggest threat on this night.

The Vols answered in kind:  on their first drive, Peyton Manning led the troops 80 yards downfield, and Manning scrambled - not bootlegged, not snuck, scrambled - eight long yards for a touchdown to tie the game.

Manning would find Ronnie Pillow for a touchdown strike to put the Vols up 14-10 after a Georgia field goal.  The teams would trade scores again as the game progressed to 20-17 Tennessee at halftime.

But the story was still Robert Edwards, who broke several long runs and several, several tackles in the first half to keep Georgia step for step with the Vols. 

I've seen lots of great performances by opposing RB's against Tennessee:  Ahman Green, Darren McFadden, Ki-Jana Carter, and a little-known day by Dennis Riddle from Alabama that we'll get to (and if I'm forgetting one, leave it in the comments).

But I'm telling you:  what Robert Edwards did to the Vols on this night surpasses anything else.

He had 125 the first half.  And he was making John Chavis do more than sweat.  In the third quarter, he took off again, hitting 155 yards on his 15th carry

But it would be his last.

Edwards broke his foot, ending his day.  If that doesn't happen, I have serious doubts about Tennessee's ability to win this game.

Georgia scored, nonetheless, a few plays after the injury to take a 24-20 lead.  Manning and the Vols would answer with :35 left in the third quarter, 21 yards on a play action fake to Joey Kent to put the Vols back in front 27-24. 

In the fourth quarter, Georgia drove to the red zone, but without Edwards couldn't get in and settled for a tying field goal with 4:51 to play.  Remember, overtime didn't come to college football until 1996, so a tie game in the fourth quarter in 1995 was even more stressful.

Then, to make matters worse, Peyton Manning threw one of his four interceptions - not in the game, but in the entire '95 campaign.  This rare occurance put Georgia in position to both milk the clock and get the win - they had 1st and 10 at the Vol 35 with 2:25 to play. 

You could say the Vol defense finally stepped up here.  A more fair analysis is that Georgia was still playing without Edwards, and that the late Brice Hunter had a pass from Bobo hit him square in the numbers that would've been good for a first down...and he dropped it.

This left Georgia with a 53 yard field goal attempt, and the kick was missed badly to the right.  So with 1:34 to play, Tennessee had the ball and a tie to break.

First, Jay Graham introduced himself to Vol faithful.

On the first play of the drive, Manning hit Graham on a well-timed screen call, and Graham went 28 yards upfield to instantly put Tennessee in field goal range with plenty of time to spare.  The Vols would use that time to pickup an additional first down, and spot the ball at the 17 yard line with 15 seconds to play.

And then it was Jeff Hall's turn.

Speaking of TiVo, one of the original commercials when the product was new was a man watching a football game with a field goal attempt upcoming, pausing "live TV" to say a prayer, and then celebrating when the kick sailed through the uprights.

That kick, my friends, was this one.

From 34 yards, the true freshman put it between the uprights...and the Vols had the win, and Hall had the first page of his Tennessee story.