Ainge hurt as Vols lose

The bad news: Ninth-ranked Tennessee suffered a 17-13 upset loss to unranked Notre Dame Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

The worse news: The last play of the first half may have been the last play of Erik Ainge's freshman season. He suffered a separated right shoulder and is listed ''out indefinitely.'' The fact the injury is to his throwing shoulder does not bode well for his return this season.

Coupled with a fractured clavicle suffered by Brent Schaeffer a week earlier, the injury to Ainge forced Tennessee to play the entire second half with Rick Clausen, its No. 3 quarterback. The loss of Ainge was devastating. Prior to the injury, he had completed 11 of 18 passes for 149 yards, accounting for all but 46 of Tennessee's 195 first-half yards. Clausen finished 10 of 18 for 120 yards but threw an interception that was returned for the go-ahead touchdown by Notre Dame linebacker Mike Goolsby. After noting that Clausen ''doesn't have the arm Ainge has or the niftiness Schaeffer has,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said the junior ''is somewhere in between.'' Conceding that his players are hurting after the loss, Fulmer noted that this is a good time for the Vols to have an open date. ''We've got a couple of days to get over this and start lookig at what's real -- and that's Rick improving,'' he said. ''If he's going to be our quarterback these next three weeks, everybody needs to rally around Rick and helping him. ''We (coaches) will change what we need to change to help him. We'll get a plan geared toward him and his skills. And obviously we'll get a backup (Bo Hardegree, C.J. Leak or Jim Bob Cooter) in a position to help us.'' In addition to Ainge, the Vols were without wide receiver/punt returner Derrick Tinsley for much of Saturday's game. He suffered a fractured lower leg and is out for the season. Fulmer called the loss ''a kick in the stomach,'' and said he was particularly disappointed in Tennessee's failure to make a crucial fourth-and-one at the Notre Dame 34-yard line in the fourth quarter. ''It wasn't blocked as well as it should've been,'' Fulmer said. Cedric Houston rushed 18 times for 65 yards to pace Tennessee, which slipped to 7-2 overall. He also was the Vols' leading receiver with 78 yards and a touchdown on four catches. Brady Quinn completed 12 of 23 passes for 118 yards for Notre Dame, now 6-3. Notre Dame won despite gaining just 216 yards of total offense. The Irish got 141 yards in the first quarter, just 75 thereafter. Tennessee finished with 327 total yards but got just 132 of that after Ainge was hurt. Fulmer said the Vols ''laid it on the line for eight straight weeks'' but simply ''didn't play as well as we'd like to'' on this particular night. He said the Vols ''still have a chance to reach our goal'' of winning a Southeastern Conference title. To do that, the Vols must beat Vanderbilt Nov. 20 and Kentucky Nov. 27. The first half was a see-saw affair. A 21-yard pass from Ainge to Jayson Swain and a 25-yard run by Cedric Houston set up a 30-yard field goal by James Wilhoit that gave Tennessee a quick 3-0 lead. Notre Dame marched 80 yards in seven plays on the ensuing possession, however, to take a 7-3 lead. The big plays were an 18-yard pass from Brady Quinn to Marcus Wilson, a 32-yard burst by Darius Walker and an eight-yard touchdown pass from Quinn to tight end Anthony Fasano. Tennessee reclaimed the lead shortly before halftime. On second-and-14 at the Vol 44-yard line Ainge lobbed a screen pass to Houston, who made several nifty cuts en route to a 56-yard touchdown play. Wilhoit's PAT gave Tennessee a 10-7 lead with 2:47 left to intermission. Tennessee's momentum was short-lived, however. Ainge was injured moments later, and the game's entire outlook changed. The third quarter was all Notre Dame. Throwing as he was hit, Clausen was intercepted by Goolsby, who returned the pick 26 yards for a touchdown that gave the Irish a 14-10 lead with 6:46 left in the period. Clausen completed a 39-yard pass to Robert Meachem that set up a 33-yard Wilhoit field goal, closing the gap to 14-13 with 1:28 left in the third quarter. Notre Dame marched from its 35-yard line to the Vol 22 midway through the final quarter. D.J. Fitzpatrick booted a 39-yard field goal that gave the Irish a 17-13 lead with 7:23 left. Tennessee twice marched into Notre Dame territory in the fourth quarter -- reaching the Irish 34-yard line and the 37-yard line -- but came away with no points. Starring in defeat was Vol defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona. He finished with six solo stops, five of them for minus yardage. ''He's the best,'' Fulmer said. ''He's an incredible kid ... a great leader. He is a special young man.'' Despite the disappoint loss, the Vol coach remains upbeat about his team and his season. ''If our past is any indicator,'' Fulmer said, ''we'll bounce back very well.''


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