The 2007 college football season gave us the weird and downright bizarre outcomes that we crave as fans. The best part about that season was the teams that rose up to heights that they had never seen before. Everyone remembers 2007 as the year Kansas football was a player in the national title picture, but it’s easy to forget that the Kentucky Wildcats climbed all the way to No. 8 that year — twice.
It was a dream season for Kentucky, who have always been dreadful and snakebitten on the football field. A 5-0 start got them to number eight in the national rankings. That 5-0 start included wins over the No. 9 ranked Louisville Cardinals along with a win over Arkansas.
Kentucky slipped up the following week to South Carolina, who was no slouch in 2007 either. Well — at least until they fell apart at the end.
But the week after that brought Kentucky perhaps their biggest football win of all time. They knocked off No. 1 LSU in triple overtime, getting to 6-1 and back to No. 8 in the country. It may have been the highest point ever in Kentucky football history, outside of the Bear Bryant era.
Kentucky wasn’t quite ready for the depth of the SEC schedule, however. They hung right with Florida the next week, but fell short. They then lost to a subpar Mississippi State team, then Georgia — who had turned a corner and was right on the heels of Tennessee for SEC East supremacy.
The Wildcats had just seen their shot at the SEC East fall apart, but they still had one goal in mind. They wanted to break that streak against Tennessee. Kentucky hadn’t beaten Tennessee since 1984. It was one of the longest droughts of any team in the country. This was pretty easily their best opportunity with a pretty loaded roster at hand.
For Phillip Fulmer and the Vols, a trip to Atlanta was on the line. They knew they could take nothing for granted in this weird season, having to fight to the bitter end to hold off Vanderbilt just a week before. Everyone knew what Andre Woodson and that offense was capable of.
But Tennessee came out of the gates hot, with Erik Ainge hitting Arian Foster off a play action fake down the sideline. It was the perfect start.
Ainge stayed hot, putting a drive together and getting the ball out to Lucas Taylor to go up 14-0. Everything seemed fine. Tennessee had shown up ready to play and ready to get to Atlanta.
It wasn’t until the second quarter until Andre Woodson showed a pulse, but he ended up showing up in a big way later on. Stevie Johnson was the recipient of his first touchdown toss of the day, which stabilized the Wildcats and got them back in the game — or so we thought.
Daniel Lincoln would hit a field goal on the next drive, but a Woodson interception on a failed screen had the Vols in business again with just a few seconds left in the half. Ainge was able to get it to Quinten Hancock for the quick score, giving Tennessee a commanding 24-7 lead.
Kentucky didn’t waste any time out of halftime. They marched right down the field and scored quickly off a Dicky Lyons Jr. reception to get the back within ten. But Tennessee had another answer. It was a long, clock eating drive capped off with another Ainge touchdown to give the Vols a 31-14 advantage.
From here on out, defense was nowhere to be found — at least for Tennessee. Andre Woodson answered right back with a touchdown toss to Jacob Tamme. Then another to Steve Johnson.
All the sudden, a game that felt safe and over with was 31-28 with two minutes to play. Things got very real for Tennessee at this moment. An SEC East crown was on the line. Georgia was patiently waiting to see if Tennessee choked, because it would mean an SEC East title for the Bulldogs, despite losing to the Volunteers 35-14 earlier that season.
Woodson went to work, quickly getting Kentucky across midfield with just a minute to play. They needed about 25 more yards to get into field goal range, or could just go win it with a touchdown.
They were quickly faced with a 3rd and 15 though, just outside of field goal range. Woodson fired a pass out to Lyons Jr., who fought off two Tennessee tackles to get past the sticks and into field goal territory. Woodson followed that up with a quick strike to Johnson, who got down to the five yard line.
With 22 seconds left on the clock, this was Kentucky’s game to lose from the five yard line.
Brent Vinson saved the game on the next play, breaking up a pass in the endzone. Vinson was targeted again on the next snap, but committed pass interference which gave Kentucky one last shot from the two yard line. They elected a run up the middle, but ended up getting stuffed.
Lones Seiber came on a nailed a chip shot field goal to force overtime — and that’s where things got fun.
The two traded touchdowns to open the overtime period. Ainge hit freshman Gerald Jones, who made an outstanding play on the ball in the endzone to extend the game.
Ainge came back on the next drive to throw a pick off a tipped ball, which pretty much ended all hope for Tennessee fans. The way this one had gone, the Volunteers had no shot of stopping Kentucky.
Until they did. Kentucky got down to the 17 yard line and trotted Seiber back out for a field goal, which was blocked. It was a brand new ballgame all over again.
The ball went right back to Andre Woodson, who proceeded to score almost immediately. Keenan Burton made a nice grab in the back of the endzone to give the Wildcats the advantage once again.
This began the go for two phase of overtime, which Kentucky failed to convert. Tennessee could win with a touchdown and a two point conversion. They got the touchdown, thanks to Austin Rogers.
A two point conversion away from a win and an SEC East title, Tennessee gave the ball to Arian Foster. He was forced outside, but ran out of room. A frustrated Foster tossed the ball across the field, earning a 15 yard penalty that would be enforced on the following possession.
What was supposed to put Tennessee at a disadvantage, didn’t at all. On the next play, Ainge hit a wide open Hancock, who kept his balance and scored. Kentucky totally lost him in the secondary.
With a defender staring down Ainge in the face, Erik stood tall in the pocket and gunned it over the middle to Austin Roger for the two point conversion. All the pressure had shifted back to Andre Woodson.
Once again, Kentucky didn’t blink. Derrick Locke scored from three yards out, bringing the Wildcats to within two points. The entire marathon of a game came down to one play.
Tennessee put seven men on the goalline and rushed four. Woodson finally ran out of magic.
Tennessee was headed to Atlanta. A rollercoaster season ended with a division championship and a chance to knock off the eventual national champion. As it turns out, that was the last time Tennessee represented the East in Atlanta. They haven’t been back since.
The streak lived on for four more years for Kentucky. All it took was Derek Dooley for Kentucky to get over the hump. They even did it with a receiver playing quarterback.
For 2007, this was a perfect way to end the regular season. This team didn’t really overachieve or underachieve. They were fortunate to have a shot at the East after getting blown out by Florida and Alabama. They were inconsistent, but they got the job done when they had to.
It turned out to be the end of an era with Fulmer stepping down just a season later. You wish he could have gone out on top, but at least he won this game and got back to Atlanta for one final time in 2007.