9:00 PM ET, October 16, 2004
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, OXFORD, MS
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) -- Thanks to Erik Ainge's short memory, Tennessee (No 14 ESPN/USA Today, No 13 AP) can keep dreaming of the SEC championship.
Ainge shook off a costly interception to hit Bret Smith with the winning touchdown with 6:58 to play in the Volunteers' 21-17 victory over Mississippi on Saturday night.
"We do a good job of looking past the last play," Ainge said. "We don't dwell on a good or a bad play. We just keep fighting. That has a lot to do with good coaching."
Ainge was 14-of-30 for 231 yards and played all but two series for the Volunteers (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference), who scored on their first two possessions and remained in control in the Eastern Division with their 11th straight win over Ole Miss.
With no ranked teams ahead, Tennessee's schedule becomes much more manageable.
Three of the Volunteers' first five opponents were ranked, and they went 2-1 with wins against Florida and Georgia, their closest competition for the division title.
For Ole Miss (3-4, 2-2), the road gets tougher -- after a week off, fourth-ranked Auburn comes to Oxford.
The Rebels were thinking upset after they took a 17-14 lead on Bryan Brown's 34-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Ainge said he didn't see Brown sneak in front of his screen pass and flushed it from his short-term memory.
"He's not going to let too much get him down," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
The freshman quarterback led the Volunteers back. Tennessee answered by going 83 yards in nine plays, and Ainge kept the drive alive with a 39-yard pass down the left sideline to Robert Meachem.
"Whether he stepped in or out, I don't know, but it was the play that got us going again," Ainge said.
Three plays later, Ainge hit a diving Smith in the end zone from 30 yards out for the winning touchdown.
The Volunteers didn't allow Ole Miss out of its own end on its final two possessions.
"It's important to win games when you don't always play your best," Fulmer said. "We jumped out, then got complacent, but the last couple of drives showed our character."
Gerald Riggs Jr. ran for 118 yards and a touchdown in his first start for the Volunteers.
It was Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe's first game against Fulmer, his old friend and former boss. Cutcliffe coached for 17 years at Tennessee before coming to Oxford in 1998.
"It's almost like being married," Fulmer said.
For the second straight game, Mississippi used a rotation of Ethan Flatt, Micheal Spurlock and Robert Lane at quarterback. The Rebels at times switched quarterbacks with each play during last week's upset at South Carolina.
"I don't think it has been used to confuse the defense as much as it has been used to boost us," Cutcliffe said.
Flatt was 10-of-20 for 147 yards but was intercepted twice by the SEC's worst defense against the pass. Lane, a redshirt freshman, was the Rebels' leading rusher with 44 yards.
"They are no doubt the best defense we've seen this year," Flatt said. "It's hard to get passes off and run the ball against that type of front seven."
Ainge was listed as the co-starter on Tennessee's depth chart with fellow freshman Brent Schaeffer, who was 1-of-2 for 8 yards in two ineffective series in the second half.
Both teams scored touchdowns off mistakes in the punting game.
Mississippi forced Tennessee to punt on its second possession but had only 10 men on the field and left gunner Chris Hannon uncovered. Punter Dustin Colquitt caught it and hit Hannon for the first down. Riggs scored from 21 yards out on the next play to make it 14-0.
Larry Kendrick set up the Rebels' only touchdown of the first half when he recovered a muffed punt by Jonathan Hefney at the Tennessee 24. Brandon Jacobs dove in from the 1 three plays later to pull the Rebels to 14-7.
Jabari Davis capped the Volunteers' nine-play, 78-yard opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown.
Jonathan Nichols kicked a 42-yard field goal for the Rebels.
The game was also a Manning family reunion for a pair of brothers in the NFL and their famous father.
Peyton Manning, the leading passer in Tennessee history and last year's NFL co-MVP, was on the sideline with younger brother Eli, who led Ole Miss to 10 wins last year and was the top pick in the NFL draft. Patriarch Archie Manning, the most famous player in Ole Miss history, was also in attendance.
It was the first meeting between Tennessee and Ole Miss since 1997, and the Rebels haven't beaten the Volunteers since 1983.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||8-18||4-15|
|4th Down Conversions||1-1||0-0|
|TD||11:42||JABARI DAVIS 1 YD RUN (JAMES WILHOIT KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 78 yards.
|TD||6:11||GERALD RIGGS 21 YD RUN (JAMES WILHOIT KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 55 yards.
|TD||5:02||BRANDON JACOBS 1 YD RUN (JONATHAN NICHOLS KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 24 yards.
|FG||5:02||JONATHAN NICHOLS 42 YD FG|
Drive info: 8 plays, 41 yards.
|TD||11:01||BRYAN BROWN 34 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (JONATHAN NICHOLS KICK)||14||17|
|TD||6:58||BRET SMITH 30 YD PASS FROM ERIK AINGE (JAMES WILHOIT KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 83 yards.