KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer turned to
his defense in the end to preserve a victory over Alabama in a
rivalry that has turned nasty off the field.
The Volunteers (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) held on for a 17-13 victory with key
stops and an interception in the final seconds Saturday night.
"It's a monkey off his back," Tennessee linebacker Kevin
Burnett said about his embattled coach. "It was a motivating
factor for all of us."
The Crimson Tide (5-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) was trailing
by a touchdown when Brian Bostick's 47-yard field goal with 6:26
left pulled Alabama within four.
Tennessee (6-1, 4-1) chose to run the ball three straight times
as the orange-clad fans in Neyland Stadium booed and then had to
punt. The Vols' defense, which had trouble at times stopping
Alabama's vaunted running attack, allowed the Tide to get to
midfield. But Omar Gaither dropped Alabama's Kenneth Darby for a
loss of 3 to make it fourth-and-6.
Alabama went for it and got a break when Parys Haralson was
called for roughing the passer for shoving Spencer Pennington in
the face. That moved the ball to the Tennessee 37, but the Vols got
another tackle for a loss and Corey Campbell secured the win with
an interception at the 15 with 46 seconds remaining.
The Vols immediately started celebrating, tossing a cooler of
water on Fulmer, who has beaten Alabama nine of the last 10 tries
and is not a popular figure among Tide fans.
The long-running border rivalry has taken on a new meaning since
Alabama was sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations.
Attorneys outside the university who represent two former Tide
assistants claim Fulmer was part of a conspiracy to tear down the
Alabama football program.
"All that stuff is irrelevant to what happened between the
lines tonight," Fulmer said. "It was two great programs competing
against each other."
Alabama showed off the SEC's best rushing offense and why it has
the third-best total defense in the nation.
Darby ran 25 times for 99 yards and the Vols were held to just
195 total yards, the third straight team Alabama has held below 200
"Today answered a lot of questions that we're doing a pretty
good job on defense," Alabama coach Mike Shula said. "Tennessee
was a lot of the reason we didn't play as well."
Tennessee freshman Erik Ainge was intercepted twice. He was
frustrated much of the game, finishing 10-of-22 for 132 yards.
Ainge didn't complete a pass until 12:54 left before halftime
when Tony Brown caught two passes in a row to break the drought.
Tennessee netted 1 yard of total offense in the first quarter.
The Tide just came up short.
"I really can't explain the feeling right now," Alabama
linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It feels like someone just ripped
your heart out. It is a bad feeling."
The Vols led 17-10 when Ainge made a costly error at the end of
the third quarter. The Vols had driven 78 yards to the Alabama 4
when Ainge opted to throw it on third-and-1, and Alabama's
Cornelius Wortham batted the ball at the goal line and caught it
for the Tide's second interception.
Alabama couldn't move the ball past its 35 and had to give it
back to Tennessee. But the Vols gave it right back.
The Tide looked on its way to tying the game on its ensuing
drive but Tennessee's Jesse Mahelona sacked Pennington for a loss
of 15 yards. Alabama settled for the field goal.
Neither team seemed to be able to maintain momentum.
The Vols took advantage of good field position after Derrick
Tinsley's 45-yard punt return to the Alabama 29. Ainge found Jayson
Swain darting into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown pass and a
14-10 lead in the second quarter, but the Vols couldn't pull away.
Swain, of Huntsville, Ala., had a career high five catches for
The Tennessee defense tried to set the tone in the beginning
with Haralson's 18-yard fumble return for a touchdown on the Tide's
second play of the game.