Vols outlast Bama, 17-13

Moments before Tennessee took the field against Alabama Saturday at Neyland Stadium, defensive coordinator John Chavis exhorted his troops: ''Don't wait for the offense to score. Go score yourself. Throw the first lick.''

Defensive Parys Haralson took the words to heart. He turned to his teammates and vowed, ''Watch me go score a touchdown.'' Then he went out and did precisely that.

On Bama's second scrimmage play Turk McBride hit quarterback Spencer Pennington as he handed off to Kenneth Darby, forcing a fumble that Haralson returned 18 yards for a touchdown. That play provided a 7-0 lead and a spark that eventually produced a 17-13 victory.

The Vols, now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in SEC play, visit South Carolina next weekend.

In addition to Haralson's touchdown, Tennessee also got a big play from special teams. Derrick Tinsley returned a punt 45 yards to set up the Vols' second touchdown. So, on an afternoon when the attack unit produced just 195 yards of total offense, the defense and special teams saved the day.

''Sometimes we'll carry the offense, sometimes the offense will carry us,'' linebacker Kevin Burnett said. ''Sometimes the kicking game will carry both of us.''

Tennessee's defense smothered Bama early but Tony Brown bobbled an Erik Ainge quick hitch and Bama linebacker DeMeco Ryans made a diving interception at the Vol 44-yard line. The Tide quickly tied the score at 7-all, the big play being a 22-yard pass from Pennington to Tyrone Prothro that carried to the Big Orange 2-yard line. Tim Castille scored on the next play to tie the score.

Alabama went up 10-7 early in the second quarter, as Brian Bostick nailed a 34-yard field goal.

Tennessee's offense had accomplished virtually nothing to this point, but Tinsley's punt return turned the Tide. Starting on the the Bama 29-yard line, Ainge hit Jayson Swain (a native of Huntsville, Ala.) for 10 yards, then found him again on a 19-yard post pattern for a touchdown that put Tennessee on top 14-10.

''That was a heck of an effort,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said of Tinsley's return. ''Derrick made a great run and it was well blocked.''

A 41-yard James Wilhoit field goal boosted the Vol lead to 17-10 midway through the third quarter. Tennessee then threatened to break the game open on its next possession. The Big Orange drove to a third-and-one at Bama's 4-yard line but Ainge's pass was batted and intercepted by Cornelius Wortham at the 2.

''I tried to 'arm' it to Tony (Brown),'' Ainge said of the crucial interception. ''But it was just too tight.''

Alabama threatened to tie the score moments later, driving to the Vol 18-yard line. Defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona sacked Pennington for a 15-yard loss, however, and the Tide settled for a 47-yard Bostick field goal that narrowed the gap to 17-13 with 6:26 remaining.

Tennessee's defense snuffed Bama's last gasp when Cory Campbell intercepted a Pennington overthrow at the Vol 15-yard line with 46 seconds left.

The Vol ground game ground to a halt against the Tide. Gerald Riggs gained just 46 yards on 19 carries, while Cedric Houston added 30 yards on 7 rushes. That put a lot of pressure on Ainge, who rallied from an 0-for-5 start to complete 10 of 22 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. His goalline interception, however, came at a time when Tennessee appeared ready to put the game on ice. Fortunately for Tennessee, its defense was able to offset the rookie QB's uneven performance.

''He's a tough guy and a competitor,'' Fulmer said of Ainge. ''But he's still a freshman. That kind of reins him in a little bit, especially when the (Vol) defense is playing as well as they're playing. You know if you don't give 'em (Tide) a short field, they're probably not going to score on you. ''

Swain was Tennessee's leading receiver, making five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. His best grab saw him leap over a perfectly positioned Tide defender to gather in a 37-yard bomb that set up Tennessee's final touchdown.

''Jayson competes hard for the ball,'' Fulmer said. ''That was a heck of a catch tonight, when he took the ball away from the defender.''

Another Alabama native, safety Jason Allen of Muscle Shoals, also made life miserable for his homestate university. Allen led both teams with 15 tackles, including 10 solos. He also broke up a pass.

''Jason has played lights-out all year,'' Fulmer said. ''He's played his best in big games. We're glad he's here.''

Mahelona had not taken a snap all week because of a minor knee injury. He showed up big on Saturday, however, recording two minus-yardage stops, including a 15-yard sack. Several more Vols also were battling injuries.

''It looked like a Red Cross unit out there sometimes, with guys fighting through so much,'' Fulmer said. ''We had four or five concussions. We're telling 'em they can't play, and next thing we know they're back in there.

''We have a lot of warriors on this football team.''

As things turned out, the Vols had just enough warriors to win the battle.


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