Air Force 30

(0-1, 0-1 away)

(11) Tennessee 31

(2-0, 2-0 home)

Coverage: GamePlan

7:00 PM ET, September 9, 2006

Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, TN

1 2 3 4 T
AFA 7 3 7 1330
#11TENN 3 14 7 731

Top Performers

Passing: E. Ainge (TENN) - 333 YDS, 3 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: R. Williams (AFA) - 16 CAR, 98 YDS, 2 TD

Receiving: R. Meachem (TENN) - 8 REC, 115 YDS, 2 TD

Vols hold on when late Air Force 2-point conversion fails

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry gambled against No. 11 Tennessee and ended up with one of the biggest disappointments of his long career.

The Falcons (0-1) frustrated the Volunteers' defense with their tricky triple-option offense and staged a comeback in the final minutes to pull to within one on a touchdown with 1:35 remaining.

DeBerry chose to go for the lead instead of a tie. Tennessee's Xavier Mitchell stuffed the late 2-point conversion try and preserved the 31-30 victory Saturday.

"I think they came in here to win the game," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "It was their call. If they made it, they would have been heroes."

The Volunteers (2-0), coming off last week's stunning win over California, got another stellar performance from Erik Ainge and the offense, but it almost wasn't enough.

Now Tennessee can focus all of its attention on Florida, which comes to Rocky Top next week for the teams' annual SEC East showdown.

Ainge completed 24 of 29 passes for 333 yards with one interception. Robert Meachem caught touchdown passes of 4 and 5 yards, and Jayson Swain hauled in another for 5 yards from Ainge.

Air Force cut it to 31-24 with 2:41 left and then recovered the onside kick at its own 42. The Falcons scored on Ryan Williams' 1-yard run to cut the lead to a point with 1:35 remaining.

On the 2-point try, Chad Hall took the pitch from quarterback Shaun Carney and was stopped for a loss by Mitchell.

The relieved orange-clad fans in Neyland Stadium cheered for a win that was very different from a week ago.

DeBerry said he decided to go for two before the final touchdown because "we didn't come here to tie."

"It's probably the most disappointing game I've ever been involved in," he said. "It's a game that I felt we should have won, a game we could have won."

And it would have been huge for the Falcons coming off back-to-back losing records for the first time under DeBerry, who is in his 23rd season. Air Force's last win over a ranked team came in 2002 when the Falcons beat then-No. 23 California 23-21.

The Falcons had another opportunity to get the ball back after the failed conversion. They recovered another onside kick, but the officials nullified it with an offside penalty. Air Force had to kick again, and Tennessee recovered it and ran out the clock.

DeBerry said he didn't want to comment on the penalty until after he saw the tape.

"We're elated to get a win and get out of that thing and get ready for the next one," Fulmer said.

Play was stopped for several minutes late in the fourth quarter after Tennessee's Inky Johnson was carted off the field and taken away in an ambulance. He apparently hit helmets with Air Force's Justin Handley after a catch.

Fulmer said Johnson was temporarily unconscious but was able to move his arms and legs. Johnson was taken to University of Tennessee Medical Center.

The Vols lost starting defensive tackle Justin Harrell with an unspecified arm injury, and starting tailback Arian Foster left the game in the first half with a sprained left ankle.

Montario Hardesty relieved him and scored from 3 yards out to cap a 99-yard drive to open the second half. Hardesty finished with 72 yards on 19 carries.

"We've got a lot of heart on this football team. You know we didn't get it the way we wanted it," Ainge said.

"We knew going into that game that their offense was going to be able to move the football. ... We've never faced anything like Air Force."

Air Force led 10-3 early, but Meachem's touchdown catch in the second quarter tied it at 10. The Vols went ahead for good on Ainge's TD pass to Swain in a hurry-up offense with 28 seconds to go in the first half.

The triple option is rarely seen in college football these days, and it fooled the Vols often.

"I'm standing on the sidelines, and I couldn't tell who had the ball," Fulmer said.

Williams led the Falcons in rushing with 98 yards on 16 carries.

The Vols were hoping to put the game away in the fourth quarter when Ainge's pass was intercepted at the Air Force 10 by Julian Madrid.

The mistake set up Williams' 4-yard run that started Air Force's comeback with 2:41 remaining and made it 31-24.

Carney had 52 yards rushing with a 1-yard touchdown that was challenged by Fulmer but upheld by the officials.

Hall rushed 11 times for 81 yards, and scored from 5 yards out in the first quarter.