Year of haunting ends for Vols

Tennessee, aching over last year's loss to Spurrier, rallies to beat South Carolina.

Published October 29, 2006

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Tennessee didn't give Steve Spurrier anything to joke about Saturday.

Erik Ainge threw two touchdowns to Bret Smith and the eighth-ranked Vols ended a year of ugly memories from last year's loss to South Carolina with a 31-24 victory.

"That was a hard loss," Tennessee's Marvin Mitchell said of last year's 16-15 defeat. "They beat us last year, but hey, we got them this year."

Spurrier has largely had his way with Tennessee through the years. The coach won at Neyland Stadium with Duke in 1988, then took eight of 12 games from the Vols as Gators coach from 1990-2001. Then he led the Gamecocks to their first win in Knoxville last fall. Josh Brown's 49-yard field goal gave South Carolina a victory even Spurrier described as a "miracle."

It looked like Spurrier's hex was in effect again at Williams-Brice Stadium after USC overcame a two-touchdown deficit to lead 17-14 after three quarters.

But Ainge found Smith on a 12-yard TD pass to put the Vols ahead for good with 13:10 left. After forcing South Carolina to punt on its next possession, Jonathan Hefney had a 65-yard punt return to South Carolina's 5 and Arian Foster had a touchdown run on the next play.

The Gamecocks closed to 31-24 on Syvelle Newton's 1-yard TD run with 2:24 to go. Tennessee was forced to punt - Ainge was out with a bad ankle on the series - and South Carolina had one final chance. Newton's desperation heave, however, was intercepted by Demetrice Morley as time ran out.

"I don't know what to say," Spurrier said. "It just didn't work out."

Spurrier's always loved picking at Tennessee. He once quipped, "You can't spell Citrus without U-T," referring to the Vols' many Citrus Bowl appearances, and this week couldn't keep himself from again having a little fun at the Vols expense.

He was explaining how since the winners are usually the ones who tell such jokes and how Tennessee didn't win too many of its matchups with Spurrier's Gators, "maybe they weren't telling too many up" in Knoxville.

Now, it's the Vols and coach Phillip Fulmer who can laugh it up - at least for this year. The victory pushed Fulmer one ahead of Spurrier in SEC wins after they came in tied at 134.

The Vols' road to the SEC title game doesn't get much easier the next two weeks. They take on No. 14 LSU and No. 13 Arkansas before closing the SEC against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Even if Tennessee wins out, it would need help from an SEC team to knock off Florida - perhaps Spurrier's Gamecocks who go to Gainesville on Nov. 11? - to represent the Eastern Division.