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Russell rallies LSU to thrilling win over Tennessee

Nov 5, 2006 - 12:44 AM KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- JaMarcus Russell showed the physical and psychological resolve Louisiana State had been lacking.

Russell capped an 80-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Early Doucet with nine seconds to play, giving No. 13 LSU a thrilling 28-24 Southeastern Conference victory over No. 8 Tennessee.

Overcoming an injury and three interceptions, Russell rallied the Tigers (7-2, 3-2 SEC West) from a 10-point second-half deficit to their first win here since 1988. They avenged a home overtime loss to Tennessee a year ago and improved to 2-11-1 here.

"I knew that we were still in it," Russell said. "I just had to go out there and fight, sacrifice my body and myself and be willing to do whatever it takes to help my team."

"When the chips are down and a play has got to be made, we play 'em and we make 'em," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I'm proud of this team. This is the second time that LSU has beaten Tennessee at Tennessee. Our guys will remember this one."

It was a crushing loss for Tennessee (7-2, 3-2 East), which still was harboring hope of appearing in the national championship game but instead can no longer catch Florida for the East Division and a berth in the SEC title game.

"That hurts," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "That really hurts our football team."

The second of Russell's three interceptions was returned for a touchdown by safety Demetrice Morley and put LSU in a 17-7 hole early in the third quarter. But he directed touchdown drives on the next two possessions and saved his best for last.

After Jonathan Crompton's 54-yard TD pass to Robert Meachem gave Tennessee a 24-21 lead with 7:29 remaining, Russell took over. A false start had him facing a 4th-and-8 at the Volunteers 42 with 2:15 to play, but he found Doucet for nine yards.

"(Russell) just said that we've got to come together and we'll score," said Doucet, who had eight catches for 73 yards. "That was our whole objective - to get six (points) on that drive."

Doucet added an 11-yard catch, and runs by Jacob Hester and Keiland Williams moved the ball inside the 10. Russell threw an incompletion and scrambled to the 4 before calmly finding Doucet in the middle of the end zone, silencing the 100,000-plus at Neyland Stadium.

"You have to give a lot of credit to LSU," Fulmer said. "Their quarterback is a major-league player in every sense of the word."

LSU had scored just three points after halftime in road losses to top-10 teams Auburn and Florida, but Russell directed the Tigers to 21 second-half points against Tennessee, which lost at home for the second time this season.

Russell completed 24-of-36 passes for 247 yards and three TDs and ran seven times for 71 yards.

"I think I kind of proved myself today," Russell said. "But I just have to keep fighting and get better."

"JaMarcus is tremendous," Tennessee defensive end Xavier Mitchell said. "We got pressure on him like we wanted to."

Crompton came on after Erik Ainge - who started despite a high ankle sprain - could not get anything going on the first three possessions. Crompton was 11-of-24 for 183 yards, one interception and two TDs - both to Meachem, who caught five passes for 121 yards.

"Jonathan's going to be a heck of a quarterback," Fulmer said. "He'll be a really fine football player with more time and experience."

After Morley's interception, Russell led a 10-play, 77-yard march culminating with his five-yard TD pass to Dwayne Bowe, who caught six passes for 89 yards.

Williams ran seven yards for a score with 2:57 left in the third quarter, giving the Tigers a 21-17 lead before a series of mistakes by both teams. Tennessee's James Wilhoit missed a field goal, Russell was picked off by Antwan Stewart, Crompton was intercepted by Darry Beckwith and Bowe fumbled after a catch.

With Ainge under center, Tennessee simply could not move the football as it was held to minus-5 yards on its first three possessions.

"He got tackled and he not only reinjured that ankle a bit, but I think he hurt the other one a bit as well," Fulmer said.

Russell sat out a series after being injured on a sack but returned with a purpose, completing a pair of third-down passes before finding Craig Davis with a laser throw for a 23-yard TD early in the second quarter.

Crompton found Meacham with a perfect 37-yard TD toss that tied it with 4:38 left in the first half. A 22-yard run by Arian Foster set up Wilhoit's 24-yard kick just before the gun that gave Tennessee a 10-7 lead.

On the first possession of the second half, Russell made a terrible throw that slipped out of his hands and was intercepted by Morley, who scampered 31 yards into the end zone to make it 17-7.

"That's who we are right there," Miles said. "We are a team that comes out, and in the opening drive of the second half, throws one to them for seven (points), and says, 'You know what? It doesn't matter.'"

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