Rivera made 11 saves on 12 shots on goal by the Volunteers (4-4, 0-1 SEC), including a game-saving stop with just eight seconds remaining which preserved the first-ever victory for the Tigers (5-2-1, 1-0 SEC) in three tries against Tennessee.
"It's a huge win for us," Coach Karen Richter said. "It's huge because it's a conference game and it's huge because of how good Tennessee is. It taught us how to win in the SEC, which is something this team needed to learn how to do. We didn't play pretty, but we found a way to get a positive result. We'll have to play better to keep winning in the SEC."
Auburn scored its goals just one minute and 15 seconds apart after both teams went scoreless for the first 64 minutes of the game. Midfielder Lindsey Hawkins sent a corner kick into the box, which defender Erin Hinson headed into the back of the net for Auburn's first goal at the 25:21 mark of the second half.
Freshman Sarah Steinmann came off the bench to put the Tigers up 2-0 after she scored on a breakaway goal that she blasted by UT goalie Cori Stevens. Niki Schier sent a the pass through the Volunteer defense for the assist. It was Steinmann's fourth goal of the season which ties her for the team lead with senior Tammy Waine.
"It's awesome," Steinmann said. "We've worked really hard at this. Obviously we didn't make it into the SEC Tournament last season and that's a team goal of ours this season. We are definitely capable of doing that. We didn't even play our best tonight, so we just have to keeping working at it."
Tennessee cut the lead to one with just 1one minute and a half remaining when forward Kim Patrick got past the AU defense and sent the ball past a diving Rivera. The Volunteers had an opportunity to score on a corner kick with just 15 seconds to play, but the freshman from Miami, Fla., made a diving stop and time expired as she sent her return kick soaring past midfield.
The Tigers will look to improve to 2-0 in conference play Sunday in a match with Georgia that starts at 3 p.m. at the AU Soccer Complex.