Brown's TD seals UT win

A fairytale finish highlighted an otherwise forgettable Tennessee-Vanderbilt game Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

Senior defensive tackle Wes Brown, who has played heroically all season on two bad knees, returned an interception 25 yards for an insurance touchdown with three seconds left to seal a 31-16 Volunteer victory.

Fellow senior Montario Hardesty had a huge game, as well, rushing 32 times for 171 yards - both career bests. Most of his yards came running behind 330-pound senior tackle Chris Scott and the left side of Tennessee's line.

"It was part of the game plan - running behind Chris," head coach Lane Kiffin conceded on his post-game show. "I think you're going to win a lot of games when you can say you ran for 200 yards and gave up no sacks. It's a credit to our offensive line and Jonathan getting out of trouble (with his mobility)."

The reference was to senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who completed 20 of 34 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He extended his streak of passes without an interception to 142 (one short of Casey Clausen's school record) before throwing a third-quarter pick. Tight end Luke Stocker contributed five catches for 47 yards and a TD. Denarius Moore caught four balls for 35 yards and a score.

Tennessee, now bowl eligible at 6-5 overall and 3-4 in SEC play, also got a 25-yard field goal from walk-on Devin Mathis. He kicked in a UT junior varsity game last season, spent six months studying in Mexico, then rejoined the Vol program a few weeks ago when Daniel Lincoln's quadriceps injury left the team in desperate need of a kicker.

Mackenzi Adams completed 19 of 35 passes for 174 yards to pace Vandy, which finishes with a 2-10 overall record and an 0-8 league mark. Freshman tailback Warren Norman rushed 17 times for 73 yards.

In short, this was a typically ugly Tennessee-Vanderbilt game except that, for once, the Vols' depth was almost as thin as the Commodores. With injuries causing LaMarcus Thompson to miss the entire game and Greg King to miss the final quarter, Tennessee played walk-on linebacker Shane Reveiz most of the final period. And, due to an assortment of injuries in the secondary, Stephaun Raines saw considerable playing time, as well.

The Vols overcame their injuries but struggled to overcome their own mistakes. They lead the SEC in fewest penalty yards, yet they were flagged nine times in this game for 95 yards - both season highs.

Tennessee appeared on the verge of blowing the game open early, taking the opening kickoff and marching 60 yards in seven plays to go up 7-0. Hardesty carried on five of the seven snaps and gained 32 yards, including the final six on a burst off left tackle.

The Vols advanced to the Vandy 8-yard line on their next possession, and Mathis' field goal gave them a 10-0 lead with 5:41 left in the opening quarter.

The Commodores rallied, however, and Ryan Fowler nailed a 31-yard field goal that narrowed the gap to 10-3 with 2:18 left to the break.

Tennessee appeared ready to score again early in the second period. With the Vols in punt formation on fourth-and-2 at the Vandy 45-yard line, blocking back Kevin Cooper took the short snap and gained six yards to the Commodore 39-yard line. The gain and the first down were nullified by a holding penalty, however, and Tennessee wound up punting the ball away.

Given this reprieve, Vanderbilt went 92 yards in 11 plays and tied the score at 10-all when Adams hit tight end Ryan Van Rensburg with a two-yard toss.

That proved to be a wakeup call for the Vols, who responded with an 11-play, 72-yard drive to go up 17-10. Crompton hit Moore from 11 yards out for the touchdown.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson rolled the dice and went for it on fourth-and-three at the Vol 39-yard line with around 45 seconds left in the half. The pass fell incomplete, however, and Tennessee zoomed 61 yards in four plays to go up 24-10.

An 11-yard completion from Crompton to senior Quintin Hancock, plus a roughing-the-passer penalty on Greg Billinger, moved the ball to Vandy's 35-yard line. A 13-yard run by Hardesty and completions of 6 and 16 yards to Stocker capped the 34-second drive that ended five seconds shy of halftime.

Tennessee dominated the first half statistically, piling up 285 total yards to Vandy's 155. The Vols seemed to lose their focus during the break, however, enabling the Commodores to rally in the second half.

"I wish the second half would've been better," Kiffin said. "The first half was very productive but I probably screwed us up a little bit. I got too conservative in the second half because it was important to get the win."

A 27-yard field goal by Fowler whittled the deficit to 24-13 with 6:37 left in the third period and a 32-yarder trimmed the gap to 24-16 with 2:54 left in the fourth.

Hardesty carried on all seven plays of Tennessee's ensuing drive, picking up one first down and chewing up all but 26 seconds of the clock. Vandy took over on downs at its 25-yard line, and three plays later Brown turned a desperation throw by Adams into a storybook finish.

Tennessee closes the regular season Saturday night at Kentucky, which shocked Georgia 34-27 tonight in Athens. Kickoff is set for 7 o'clock.


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