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Tennessee football: Vols hold off Charlotte, 14-3 in homecoming win

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Far from pretty, Tennessee now two wins away from bowl eligibility.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Following a heartbreaking loss to South Carolina last week, Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 SEC) capped off homecoming week with a 14-3 win over the Charlotte 49ers (4-5, 3-2 C-USA) at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports


The difference in the game proved to be an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown from Marquez Callaway and a 16-yard touchdown toss from Jarrett Gurantano to Josh Palmer in the first quarter, as both teams failed to find the end zone for the remainder of the game.

The Tennessee defense forced a punt with less than eight minutes left. Callaway hauled in the kick and returned it 82-yards for the game’s first score. The touchdown also marked Callaway’s first of the season.

Following a turnover on downs for the 49ers, the Vols paid off a 6-play 63-yard drive with Gurantano’s 8th touchdown pass of the season-a 16-yard pass to Palmer to extend Tennessee’s lead to 14-0 just before the end of the opening quarter.

Charlotte connected on a 20-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half to cut into the Tennessee lead, making it 14-3 at the half.

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports


On their first possession of the second half, the Vols looked in position to score again, but following an 8-play, 64-yard drive, Brent Cimaglia missed a 33-yard field goal.

Charlotte had opportunities late in the fourth quarter, but the Tennessee defense managed to keep them off of the board-including a Bryce Thompson interception with under a minute left to seal the game.

Guranatno finished the game 16-of-21 for 72-yards and a touchdown. On the ground, Jeremy Banks-who returned to the backfield after practicing at linebacker last week-lead with 24 yards on 11 carries in a contest where Tennessee struggled to establish a run game throughout.

With three games left in the regular season, Tennessee must win at least two to reach the postseason. The Vols host No. 9 Kentucky at Neyland Stadium next Saturday before facing Missouri and Vanderbilt in Nashville to close out the season.

The Wildcats are coming off of a 34-17 loss to No. 6 Georgia in Lexington on Saturday.