Vols-Hogs classic revisited

The season-opening 34-33 win at Syracuse that ignited Tennessee's 1998 national title run checked in at No. 94. The so-called "Miracle at South Bend" – Tennessee's 35-34 defeat of Notre Dame in 1991 – showed up at No. 78.

Now the Vols are showing up again on Pete Fiutak's list of the 100 Greatest Finishes (since 1970), posted at collegefootballnews.com.

Arkansas had the ball near midfield and a 24-22 lead inside the final two minutes at Knoxville in November of '98. All Houston Nutt's Hogs had to do was run out the clock in order to upset Phillip Fulmer's top-ranked Vols.

That's when something absolutely surreal happened. While backing away from center, Razorback quarterback Clint Stoerner stumbled and fumbled. Tennessee recovered, then scored a last-minute touchdown to win 28-24 and boost its record to 9-0.

Actually, Tennessee should've scored the game-winning TD about two minutes earlier. When a high snap sailed over his head, Arkansas punter Chris Akins purposely kicked the ball through his own end zone. The officials erroneously gave Tennessee a safety instead of a first-and-goal at the Razorback 2-yard line.

In the end, that officiating error didn't stop Tennessee from winning. It merely heightened the suspense and made the Vols wait a little longer to pull out the dramatic victory.

Regardless, Fiutak ranks that game No. 23 among the great finishes in recent NCAA history. His recap follows:

No. 23 Tennessee 28 ... Arkansas 24, November 14, 1998 At the time: No. 1 Tennessee was 8-0 and with a few classic wins early to be in the hunt for the national title. Arkansas was also unbeaten at 8-0 coming off a 34-0 win over Ole Miss. This was played in front of 106,365 people in UTs Neyland Stadium, the largest crowd and Arkansas team had ever played in front of.

The setup: Arkansas stunned the huge orange crowd by jumping out to a 21-3 lead. The Vols managed to get within 24-17 on a Tee Martin touchdown run, but the offense was stuffed in the red zone on the next drive forcing a field goal and a 24-20 Hog lead. But Arkansas couldn't keep the pressure on getting a field goal blocked with just over six minutes to play. Once again, the Arkansas defense stiffened to force a punt, but UT's David Leaverton came through with a beauty to pin the Hogs on their one-yard line. After driving out to their 41, the Hogs needed to punt it away, but the snap flew over Chris Akin's head and was booted through the end zone for a safety and a 24-22 Arkansas lead with under three minutes to play.

The ending: Tennessee's offense couldn't do anything and had to give it back to Arkansas. Appearing to be on its way to win by running out the clock with 1:43 to go, QB Clint Stoerner went back to try to pick up the first down to put the game on ice. Instead, he tripped and lost the ball as he was trying to regain his balance. UT's Billy Ratliff recovered the fumble on the Arkansas 43 to give the Vols a new life. It then became the Travis Henry show as he ran five straight times, finishing with 197 yards on the day, powering through for a one-yard touchdown with :28 to play.

How they ended up: The following week, a down Hog team lost 22-21 to Mississippi State and ended up 9-3, ranked 16th in the AP poll and 17th in the Coaches' poll after losing 45-31 to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Tennessee rolled the rest of the way winning its final four games culminating with a 23-16 win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship.


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