Fulmer goes out a winner

It was a Phillip Fulmer kind of game. That was appropriate, since it was his last one wearing Tennessee orange.

The Vols' head man, forced to resign after 16 seasons at the helm, couldn't have scripted a much better final chapter Saturday night at Neyland Stadium:

His team beat border rival Kentucky 28-10, extending Fulmer's record against the Cats to 16-0 and extending the Big Orange winning streak in the series to 24 games.

The Volunteers won by "pounding the rock." They rushed 53 times for 210 yards, while passing just eight times.

Once Tennessee built a double-digit lead (14-3 on the third play of the third quarter), the Vols did not throw the football again the rest of the game.

Moments after getting a "Gatorade shower" along the Vol sidelines, Fulmer was presented the game ball by his players, who then hoisted the coach on their shoulders and carried him to the locker room.

Fulmer even got a smattering of applause from the assembled reporters as he sat down to begin his final post-game news conference. "That may be a first from the media," he quipped.

Although Fulmer insisted all week that the UT-UK game was "not about me," it clearly was ALL about him to his fans and players.

"I didn't want it to be about me," he said. "I'm not trying to be noble when I say that. I really felt like our guys needed to be focused on the game and their preparation and getting themselves in a position to play well. If we did that, then everyone was going to be more pleased."

Except for his staunchest supporters, not many people were pleased with Fulmer this fall. His offense proved to be so bad that Tennessee stood 3-7 after 10 games. The Vols rallied to beat Vanderbilt (20-10) and Kentucky, however, so that the veteran coach managed to bow out with a 5-7 season that leaves him with a 152-52 record.

"To end up with 100 more wins than we had losses ... that's a great accomplishment," Fulmer said. "I never brought that up to anybody but I'm really proud of that. That's not done every day."

There WAS a football game played in connection with the going-away party for Fulmer, of course. It just got overshadowed by the emotional send-off for Tennessee's head coach.

For what it's worth, here are the highlights of that game:

Lones Seiber hit a 40-yard field goal to give Kentucky a 3-0 first-quarter lead. When Tennessee blew a golden scoring opportunity because Daniel Lincoln missed a 31-yard field goal, Vol fans had to be thinking, "Here we go again."

After three Arian Foster runs failed to gain on goal-to-go at the UK 1-yard line, Vol quarterback Jonathan Crompton sneaked into the end zone on fourth down to give the Big Orange a 7-3 lead on the final play of the first half.

Crompton then shocked the civilized world on the third play of the third quarter by hooking up with Denarius Moore on a 63-yard completion – UT's longest of the season – that produced a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

Tennessee widened the gap to 21-3 when Lennon Creer scored from five yards out on the second play of the fourther quarter and made it 28-3 when Gerald Jones scored on a "G-Gun" keeper from two yards out with 5:44 to play.

Kentucky added a meaningless TD against Vol reserves in the final minutes to secure the final score.

Crompton, playing his limited role with poise and precision not apparent in his earlier performances, finished 6 of 8 passing for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also ran six times for 29 yards, discounting sacks.

Jones had a big game, too, leading the Vols in both rushing (5 carries, 67 yards) and receiving (3 catches, 15 yards).

Tennessee's defense did the rest, limiting Kentucky to 11 first downs, 96 rushing yards, 97 passing yards and 193 total yards.

"Obviously, I'm really, really thrilled and pleased with the team and with the coaching staff that stuck together through this tough month," Fulmer said. "I'm very appreciative of the fans. The Vol Walk was incredible ... and that (tribute from his players) at the end of the game was something you'll never forget."

Asked how he felt as he left Shields-Watkins Field for the final time on the shoulders of his players, the coach paused thoughtfully before answering: "I don't know if I can describe it."

Although the 2008 season was his worst as a head coach, Fulmer always contended he could right the ship if he'd been allowed to return for 2009. That door was closed about a month ago, however, when he was forced to announce his resignation.

"We've had a great run," he said. "I wasn't really ready for it to end but it probably ended up as well as it could've – with the emotions, getting the W and finishing up in a real positive way."

It was, in every sense, a Phillip Fulmer kind of game.


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