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Ainge directs late drive to lift Tennessee past Alabama

Oct 21, 2006 - 11:17 PM KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- The checkered end zone at Neyland Stadium had to be a welcome sight for Erik Ainge and Tennessee.

Ainge directed a late drive that Arian Foster capped with a one-yard touchdown plunge with 3:28 remaining as No. 7 Tennessee rallied for a 16-13 Southeastern Conference victory over Alabama.

Two weeks ago, Ainge threw for two touchdowns and ran for a score as the Volunteers (6-1, 2-1 East) made a statement within the conference with an impressive 51-33 victory at then-No. 9 Georgia.

Ainge moved the offense again Saturday, but it stalled at all the wrong times due to turnovers and poor execution. Tennessee managed just three field goals on eight possessions inside Alabama territory before finally finding the end zone.

"I think at one time we were on our side of the field and we didn't take advantage of it something like six times - or five out of six," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "You generally can't do that and survive, but we did tonight. We'll get everybody's best effort every game we play."

However, Ainge helped orchestrate a nine-play, 70-yard drive that led to Foster's go-ahead score. The junior signal-caller had completions of 27 yards to Robert Meachem and 15 to Foster on 3rd-and-1 to the 7.

Ainge completed 28-of-46 passes for 302 yards and three interceptions. It was his third 300-yard game of the season.

"It feels good to win. Anytime you can win the Tennessee-Alabama game, however you get it done, winning is what's important," Ainge said. "We know that it wasn't the prettiest game. We had our moments, and we are going to learn a lot from the film. The bottom line is that we won."

"He's been bouncing back ever since he got here," Fulmer said. "He's a fairly poised young man. His maturity is starting to show. I think he'll look at the film and see there were a lot of opportunities tonight."

James Wilhoit kicked field goals of 27, 47 and 26 yards for the Volunteers, who remained in the thick of the conference race with their fourth straight win. Tennessee also beat Alabama for the 10th time in the last 12 meetings.

Tim Castille had a two-yard touchdown run and Jamie Christensen kicked a pair of field goals for Alabama (5-3, 2-3 West), which was denied its second three-game winning streak of the season.

"It was a heartbreaking loss for our team," Alabama coach Mike Shula said. "We felt like we had done what it was going to take to win the game. We played 3 1/2 quarters of pretty good football."

Castille's short run with 58 seconds left in the third capped a six-play, 69-yard drive and gave the Crimson Tide a 13-6 lead. The march featured a spectacular 40-yard catch by D.J. Hall between three defenders.

But Crimson Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson was unable to generate another scoring drive. The sophomore completed 13-of-29 passes for 158 yards.

"Yeah, we think (it was a game we should have won)," Wilson said. "We were up, they scored a touchdown late, our defense played great, but we've just got to make more plays."

After the Volunteers started in Crimson Tide for the eighth time, Ainge led his team to the Alabama 9 before the drive stalled. Wilhoit connected a 27-yard field goal with 8:18 remaining to pull the Volunteers within 13-9.

Ainge's biggest nemesis in the first half was Crimson Tide junior defensive back Simeon Castille, who had a pair of interceptions. He returned the second pick 60 yards to set up Christensen's 18-yard field goal with 1:40 left in the half that gave the Crimson Tide a 6-3 lead.

Jonathan Hefney's 39-yard punt return into Alabama territory less than six minutes into the third quarter set up Wilhoit's 47-yard field goal that tied the game.

Neither team had anything resembling a running game. Tennessee managed 57 yards on 21 attempts and Alabama 53 on 30.

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