Tennessee Gamble Not What It Seemed : SEC: Volunteers lose track of downs, but get a late touchdown to beat Mississippi State, 26-24.
Tennessee lost track of the down Saturday, and it may have been the Volunteers’ most fortunate mistake of the day.
“On that fourth-down pass, we thought it was third and one,” Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors said after the No. 6 Volunteers rallied for a 26-24 victory over No. 23 Mississippi State.
“We were going to throw it in the end zone on third down and try for a field goal on fourth down,” Majors said. “It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. That one play may have changed the way the rest of the game went.”
That play came with just two seconds left in the first half and the score tied, 3-3. On fourth down, Andy Kelly tossed a three-yard touchdown pass to Cory Fleming for a 10-3 lead.
“We were confused and weren’t sure what down it was,” Kelly said. “I was just trying to get the first down, and the play just developed.”
Mississippi State came back to take a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter, but Kelly rallied the Volunteers with two long scoring drives. The second ended in a 10-yard pass to tight end Mark Adams with 1:50 remaining to give the Volunteers the victory.
Kelly, under pressure from a blitz, lobbed the winning pass to cap a nine-play, 88-yard drive that took just less than four minutes and negated a spirited comeback by the Bulldogs.
“I don’t think they want to play us again,” Mississippi State Coach Jackie Sherrill said. “My assessment was we played a team with a lot of experience. They’d been there before and they made the big play.”
Tennessee improved to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Mississippi State fell to 3-1 and 0-1.
Kelly completed 27 of 41 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns, and threw three interceptions. Freshman James Stewart gained 108 yards as the Volunteers piled up 516 yards against what had been the leading defense in the SEC.
Mississippi State rallied from a 17-3 deficit in the second half before Kelly led the Volunteers on two scoring drives in the final 12 minutes.
Trailing, 24-20, with under six minutes left, Tennessee took over at its 12. Kelly passed 37 yards to J.J. McCleskey and passed to Cory Fleming for 14 more to move into Mississippi State territory.
On third and five from the 10, the Bulldogs blitzed and Kelly tossed the winning pass to Adams.