Volunteers’ tradition, teamwork spark rally
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
By Ted Lewis
BATON ROUGE – There’s a reason why Tennessee has been the SEC’s most consistent winner the past 15 years.
And there’s another reason why the Volunteers’ always-lofty goals, which seemed shattered at halftime Monday night, are alive today.
They both start with a “T.”
“That’s what the ‘T’ stands for – tradition,” senior cornerback Jason Allen said during Tennessee’s celebration of its 30-27, come-from-behind overtime victory against LSU. “It’s stands for teamwork.
“We showed everybody what we’re about tonight – and that’s teamwork.”
Tennessee, which started the season ranked No. 3, lost 16-7 at Florida last week. Another defeat would all but end the Vols’ hopes of winning the SEC’s Eastern Division and certainly put them out of contention for the national championship.
“We didn’t play as well at Florida as we should have,” said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. “We helped them a lot down there.
“This game puts us back to having a chance in the league. We took a step towards that tonight.”
Down 21-0 at halftime, the Vols didn’t panic. In fact, Gerald Riggs Jr., who scored the winning touchdown, said there was little emotion in the locker room.
“Nothing much was said,” he said. “We’ve been down before, but this is an experienced team.
“We knew we just had to settle down, execute our plays and not get too caught up in what the score was.”
That enabled Tennessee to score on four of its first five possessions of the second half while holding LSU to 45 yards and a single field goal over the final two quarters of regulation.
Then, after holding LSU to another field goal in the Tigers’ overtime possession, the Vols punched the ball across the goal line in six plays – five of which featured Riggs catching or carrying the ball.
“We knew when we got the ball back we were going to score,” Riggs said. “Somehow, some way, we were going to make a play.
“After we had come back like that, we weren’t going to be denied.”
As effective as the Tennessee offense was in the second half, it got a huge lift from the defense in the third quarter when Jonathan Hefney picked off a pass by JaMarcus Russell at the LSU 28, returning to the 2-yard line.
Riggs scored two plays later to make it 24-21 with 7:15 left.
“I saw the quarterback looking at his man, and I was just standing there with my mouth wide open,” Hefney said. “I still couldn’t believe he threw the ball.
“You talk about fighting and never giving up and all that, but sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time.”
Getting into an offensive rhythm was vital in the second half, Fulmer said, along with a stronger defensive effort.
“They bowed their necks there several times,” he said. “Our defense said on Monday they were going to put the team on their shoulders and carry us.
“And darned if they didn’t.”
Losing Monday would have put Tennessee at 1-2 for the first time since 1994. The Vols lost their next game that season as well but won seven of their final eight.
However, 8-4 is not considered a successful season by Volunteer standards any more. This is a program used to winning at least 10 games and playing in January bowls.
Both would have been difficult to attain had Monday’s outcome been different.
Riggs acknowledged that the stakes were high, but he said the team would not suffer a mental letdown Saturday against Ole Miss.
“You’re not going to win or lose the whole season in one night,” he said. “You go out there, make your plays and just take them one game at a time.
“That’s what makes us Tennessee.”
email:Ted Lewis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 232-5071.