for this game

Tennessee rallies to beat Vanderbilt, remains atop SEC East

Nov 18, 2007 - 2:27 AM KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Erik Ainge and Tennessee survived a major scare from their in-state rival - barely.

Ainge tossed three touchdown passes as 19th-ranked Tennessee erased a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit Saturday en route to a 25-24 Southeastern Conference triumph over Vanderbilt.

Daniel Lincoln kicked a 33-yard field goal with 2:46 remaining to give the Volunteers a 25-24 lead, completing the second-largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.

"The team showed a lot of heart today," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "It was a tale of two halves. We didn't play very well in the first half."

"We know we're never going to be in that locker room again," said Ainge, a senior. "That's the only thing about today that's no fun. But we're undefeated at home."

It was the fourth straight victory for Tennessee (8-3, 5-2 SEC East), which can clinch a berth in the SEC championship game with a victory at Kentucky next week.

The Volunteers, who are one-half game behind Georgia (6-2) in the conference standings, own a tiebreaker over the Bulldogs courtesy of a 35-14 victory October 6.

Tennessee appeared headed to a shocking loss in this one, as Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-6 East) entered the fourth quarter with a 24-9 lead.

"A lesser football team would have bagged it, possibly," Fulmer said. "Character, work ethic, it's a testament to the coaches, the leadership on our team and our seniors. We didn't play well, and we won."

But Ainge delivered in his final home game, orchestrating a trio of scoring drives in the final quarter. He finished 29-of-43 for 245 yards, improving his season totals to 2,511 yards and 20 TDs.

"When it's close and it's on the line, we are going to get it done," Ainge said. "We know we haven't been great, but we know we can get it done."

"I'll give Erik a lot of credit, where credit was due," Fulmer said. "In the second half, he took control of the football game."

The Vols clawed within 24-16 on Ainge's seven-yard scoring strike to Josh Briscoe 15 seconds into the final quarter.

After the teams exchanged possessions over the next five minutes, Ainge directed Tennessee 83 yards in nine plays and cut the deficit to 24-22 with his five-yard TD to Austin Rogers.

The Vols forced a three-and-out on the ensuing defensive possession and started their next drive on Vanderbilt's 39-yard line courtesy of Dennis Rogan's 35-yard punt return.

Six plays later, Lincoln calmly converted the 33-yarder to give Tennessee their first lead since early in the second quarter.

"Daniel's a great kicker," Ainge said. "I have confidence in him from the right hash or the left hash."

The Commodores returned the following kickoff to the Tennessee 42, but Bryant Hahnfeldt missed a potential go-ahead 49-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining, ending Vanderbilt's upset bid.

"Vanderbilt is a good team," Fulmer said. "You have to give them credit. They played really hard, and you have to give them their due."

Arian Foster rushed for 106 yards on 19 carries while Lucas Taylor finished with 90 yards on nine catches, including a six-yard TD in the first quarter, for Tennessee, which wrapped up a 7-0 home record this season.

Mackenzi Adams completed 14-of-26 passes for 139 yards and three TDs for Vanderbilt, which fell to 27-69-5 all-time against the Vols.

"We did some good things, but we just didn't win," Commodores coach Bobby Johnson said. "We came here to win, and everyone in that locker room is disappointed. We lost together."

Tennessee went ahead, 9-7, on Lincoln's 33-yard field goal with four minutes remaining in the first half.

But Vanderbilt took its first lead of the game with 47 seconds left in the half when Adams found Jeff Jennings for a 19-yard score to make it 14-9. Hahnfeldt drilled a 33-yarder five seconds before the break to give the Commodores a 17-9 edge.

Vanderbilt appeared primed for the upset when Adams hooked up with George Smith for a two-yard score to make it 24-9 just six minutes into the second half.