Vols give Gators the boot

Wilhoit's 50-yard FG with six seconds wins game for Tennessee


star staff


  KNOXVILLE--James Wilhoit would've been hiding out behind Neyland Stadium, but he more than redeemed himself.
  After missing an extra point in the fourth quarter, the sophomore place kicker hit a 50-yard field goal with six seconds left to lift Tennessee over the Florida Gators 30-28 Saturday night.
  "We are very, very proud of the win," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. "This team's got a lot to them and they weren't going to give up."
  The largest crowd to witness a game in Knoxville (109,061) didn't leave Neyland Stadium until the wee hours of the morning.
  The classic comeback may have begun the reign of Hillsboro, Oregon's Erik Ainge as the man behind center in the orange uniform.
  Despite a costly interception in the first half, Ainge came back to throw two second half touchdowns for the Vols and drive the Vols into field goal territory with under a minute to go.
  Wilhoit could've tied things up with the extra point in the final frame, which went wide right.
  Tennessee's defense stood tall holding Flordia to a punt before making the final effort at redemption.
  Ainge dodged a sack with a 22-yard pass to Chris Hannon on the last drive with under a minute to go.
  It set up the winning kick by Wilhoit.
  "I didn't have time to think. After missing that extra point, my emotions were shot," Wilhoit said.
  "I sat on the sidelines praying that I would get another opportunity," he said. "When I did, I knew I had to make it. I couldn't think of anything else but screaming when it went through. It was definitely something you dream of."
  Ainge finished with 192 yards through the air with three scoring strikes, the first coming early in the second quarter.
  "Once you get out there, you've got to get in the zone," Ainge said. "And when the offensive line blocks for four quarters like they did, it makes things easy.
  "I knew we had time to get the ball back," he said of the missed kick. "We were down, but that's the breaks of the game and you've got to keep playing."
  Much credit is given to Chris Hannon, who pulled eight grabs for 89 yards and Tony Brown who caught a 32-yarder to set up Tennessee's crucial final touchdown in the last stanza.
  It wasn't a surprise when Florida quarterback Chris Leak made the Tennessee defensive secondary look weak.
  The sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., had 286 yards through the air on 22-of-31 passing with an interception and three scores for the Gators.
  Things were bad at the start for the Volunteers.
  A fumble on the home team's first drive gave Florida the ball inside the Tennessee 40 yard line.
  After the fumble, linebacker Kevin Simon went out with a knee injury going after the Gator quarterback. It allowed tailback Ciatrick Fason to cause some problems for the Vols during Florida's first drive, with two big runs gaining first downs.
  The runs set up a five-yard touchdown pass from Chris Leak to O.J. Small to help give Florida an early 7-0 lead.
  Tennessee came right back with gains from Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs to get into the red zone.
  Freshman quarterback Brent Schaeffer had a big 12-yard gain for a first down to set up a one-yard plow from Jabari Davis to tie things up.
  The Vols didn't need a pass completion during the drive, but they used an interception in the next one as Jason Allen picked off Leak during Florida's second drive.
  It opened up Erik Ainge's first drive for the Vols which featured some sharp passes and runs from Cedric Houston and Corey Larkins to get the ball inside the red zone.
  Ainge followed things up with an impressive 17-yard touchdown strike to Justin Reed to give the Vols a 14-7 lead.
  Florida, however, responded with a solid drive orchestrated by their sophomrore quarterback. Leak threw for seven first downs before touching Jemalle Cornelius with a nine-yard strike to tie things up with seven minutes left in the second quarter.
  Florida took the advantage when Ainge made the first big mistake from the freshmen quarterbacks, as Terrence Holmes returned an interception 21 yards.
  Leak then followed with a 29-yard pass to Andre Caldwell, which set up a one-yard plow from DeShawn Wynn to give the Gators a 21-14 lead going into the second half.
  After holding the Gators, a 22-yard run from Schaeffer highlighted the Vols first drive of the second half.
  However, the freshman was hit hard by Earl Everett, forcing a fumble to the Gators.
  Fason, Wynn and Leak moved the chains for Florida, who was held inside the five-yard line without a score by the Vols after Matt Leach missed a field goal.
  Erik Ainge redeemed himself and made them pay.
  The Oregon native drove the ball 80 yards towards the end zone with steady passes to move the chains.
  He wound up hitting Bret Smith with an impressive 23-yard touchdown throw to tie things up at 21 with 13:02 left.
  Ron Zook's Gators nor the Vols couldn't do anything on their next drives, respectively.
  Florida quickly bounced back, the sophomore Leak hit Chad Jackson down the left sideline with an 81-yard touchdown strike to make it a seven-point game with 7:43 remaining.
  The Vols went for it on a 4th-and-six with Ainge hitting Brown down the middle for a 32-yard gain to put the ball inside the 20.
  Ainge hit a speedy Jayson Swain for a 13-yard touchdown strike up the middle, but Wilhoit's PAT attempt went wide right to keep the Gators on top by a point.
  "I thank God football it is a 60-minute game," said Tennessee center Jason Respert.