With win over Bama, Vols 6-0 for first time since 1998 title season

AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee running back Jabari Small (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of Saturday's home win against Alabama.
AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee running back Jabari Small (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of Saturday's home win against Alabama.

KNOXVILLE — Neyland Stadium needs new goal posts, and Nick Saban needs a new streak.

Chase McGrath's 40-yard field goal as time expired gave No. 6 Tennessee a dizzying 52-49 triumph over No. 3 Alabama to snap the Crimson Tide's 15-game series winning streak that coincided with Saban's 2007 arrival in Tuscaloosa. As soon as McGrath's knuckler sailed through the uprights in the south end zone, delirious fans rushed the field, bringing down the south goal post before claiming the one in the north end zone as well.

"Man, what an unbelievable scene," Volunteers coach Josh Heupel said after taking down college football's premier program in his second attempt. "That thing ends, and I'm running out on the middle of the field, and you can see the swarm of orange coming down. The orange-out was phenomenal tonight, and the energy from our fans, our student body and through the entire stadium was electric."

When asked what it was like to experience his first victory cigar in the rivalry, Heupel said, "I smoked it slow, but it was dang good."

The Vols improved to 6-0 for the first time since 1998, when they claimed the program's second and most recent Associated Press national championship, and they are 3-0 in Southeastern Conference play. Alabama dropped to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in league play.

Saturday marked the highest-scoring game in the history of the Third Saturday in October rivalry, and the 52 points surrendered by the Tide were the most since a 54-4 loss to Sewanee in 1907.

"It's a very disappointing loss. We didn't answer the bell today," Saban said. "Obviously there is a lot of work to be done. We had way too many penalties and did too many things to help them. We had a major error on special teams that was totally unnecessary that led to a score on their part.

"You've got to give them a lot of credit. They did a nice job with their offense based on what were trying to do on defense, and we played way too soft in the end."

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young returned from a shoulder injury and was marvelous, completing 35 of 52 passes for 455 yards and two touchdowns, but every bit as brilliant was Tennessee counterpart Hendon Hooker, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 385 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.

Hooker's 385 yards were a career high, and all five of his scores went to Jalin Hyatt.

"Hendon is playing at an unbelievable level," Heupel said. "He's smart. He's tough. He's competitive, and he's accurate with the football whether it's short, medium or deep. He controlled the game for us and was the key to the ignition that makes us go."

McGrath's winning kick occurred just 15 seconds after Alabama's Will Reichard missed a 50-yard attempt for the Tide.

Beginning at their 32-yard line, the Vols zipped to midfield on an 18-yard completion from Hooker to Ramel Keyton before calling a timeout with nine seconds left. Hooker then connected with Bru McCoy for 27 yards to the Tide's 23, leaving two seconds to spare for McGrath.

"The ability to finish a half or a game starts with your quarterback being decisive and taking care of the ball and having trust in him," Heupel said. "It takes five guys up front protecting him, and we had guys on the perimeter making plays. Ramel Keyton made a big catch, and Bru set it up."

Hooker somewhat downplayed the finish and the exciting aftermath, saying, "We really do approach every game the same and as another day at the office, and that's how we approached it today."

Tennessee took a 42-35 lead with 14:01 remaining on a 78-yard touchdown pass from Hooker to Hyatt and a 2-point conversion flip from Hooker to tight end Princeton Fant. Alabama pulled into a 42-42 tie at the 8:38 mark on a 1-yard pass from Young to tight end Cameron Latu, and the Tide then dealt the Vols a stunning blow when Hooker and running back Jabari Small botched an exchange that allowed linebacker Dallas Turner to scoop the ball up for an 11-yard score with 7:49 left.

The Vols regrouped to force a 49-49 tie with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 13-yard pass from Hooker to Hyatt as 3:26 remained.

"Tonight obviously was for our players but also our former players and our donors and our fans," Heupel said. "I know how much this has meant to the people of Tennessee and Vol Nation, and I'm so happy to win for everybody involved. It was a great night."

Said senior safety Trey Flowers: "We'll never forget this moment."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.


Upcoming Events