KNOXVILLE (WVLT) -- Vanderbilt came within a quarter of winning two straight games against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.
But Erik Ainge and the Tennessee offense woke up in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 unanswered points to win, 25-24, in dramatic comeback fashion on a 33-yard Daniel Lincoln field goal with 2:47 remaining in the game.
Vandy had its own chance at victory, returning the ball to the Tennesse 45, then converting on a controversial third-down pass interference call. But kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt missed a 49-yard field goal attempt wide left, sealing the Tennessee victory.
Ainge struggled for much of the day, finishing 29-of-43 for 245 yards and three touchdowns. But his efforts, along with the heroics of freshman punt returner Dennis Rogan, were enough to propel Tennessee (8-3, 5-2 SEC) to victory over the Commodores, who were missing several key starters for much of the game due to injuries.
Ainge led the Vols on two fourth-quarter scoring drives to get within shooting distance of the Commodores. Rogan returned a Vanderbilt punt 45 yards to the 'Dores 33-yard-line to set up the game-winning score.
After three quarters Vandy led 24-9, and Tennessee's floundering offense offered little hope of a successful comeback bid. But, ironically, on senior day it was a pair of freshmen -- Rogan and Lincoln -- who carried Tennessee to the win, which puts the Vols in the SEC Championship game if they beat Kentucky next week in Lexington.
Vanderbilt (5-6) almost succeeded on its own comeback bid, but Bryant Hahnfeldt missed a 49-yard field goal with 33 seconds left to seal the Tennessee victory.
Now the Vols drive up I-75 to Kentucky next week with a clear objective: a win sends them to Atlanta and a bout with LSU for the SEC title. If Tennessee loses to the Wildcats, Georgia advances to the championship game.
A detailed game summary follows.
Daniel Lincoln nailed a 33-yard field goal to put Tennessee aheaad, 25-24, with 2:46 left in the game. The lead is Tennessee's first since the second quarter, and was made possible thanks to the heroics of Knoxville freshman Dennis Rogan.
Rogan uncorked a 45-yard punt return to the Vanderbilt 33-yard-line to put the Vols in business with less than six minutes left in the game.
Erik Ainge passed to Josh Briscoe for a touchdown, but the Vols were unable to tie the game on the two-point conversion, as Ainge overthrew Quintin Hancock in the end zone with 7:14 left in the game.
Tennessee held Vanderbilt to a three-and-out after the Vols scored to get within one possession, then Dennis Rogan returned the Vandy punt 18 yards to the Tennessee 44 with 12:50 left in the game.
Erik Ainge passed to Josh Briscoe in the end zone for a score to make the score 24-16 Vanderbilt with 14:45 left in the ball game. The Vols initially failed to gain a first down, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Vols 15 yards and new life inside Vanderbilt territory as the third quarter came to a close.
Tennessee failed to respond to Vanderbilt's touchdown to start the second half, as Erik Ainge was unable to adjust to pressure from Vandy cornerback Marcus Buggs, underthrowing his intended receiver on third down. Vandy took over at its own 20 after Britton Colquitt's punt went into the end zone. The Commodores converted on third and nine, but were unable to get another first down, and a 39-yard punt gave Tennessee the ball at its own 28.
Mackenzi Adams threw a 2-yard fade to George Smith, putting Vanderbilt ahead 24-9 with nine minutes left in the third quarter. The play capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive which took almost six minutes and included three third-down conversions.
Vanderbilt's offense got off to a good start in the second half, as Knoxville native Cassen Jackson-Garrison stormed 23 yards on the 'Dores first possession to get inside Tennessee territory. On third and 12, Adams completed a 30-yard pass to a streaking Alex Washington to keep the drive alive. Another third down completion, this time with four yards to go, put Vandy at the Tennessee 7. Tennessee senior defensive end Xavier Mitchell injured his shoulder on the play and lay on the field for five minutes before returning to the sideline.
Vanderbilt holds a 17-9 halftime lead over Tennessee thanks to two Mackenzi Adams touchdown passes and a key Erik Ainge turnover.
Ainge is 13-of-21 for 110 yards and a touchdown, which came on Tennessee's opening drive.
After the Vols scored to go up 6-0, Daniel Lincoln's extra point attempt was blocked. Vanderbilt scored early in the second quarter on a 17-play, nine-minute drive to take the lead.
Tennessee marched back down the field and added a 34-yard Lincoln field goal, but Vandy finished off the half strongly, scoring on a 21-yard pass to East Tennessee native Jeff Jennings, then recovering a controversial backwards pass to add a half-closing 33-yard field goal.
Vandy receiver Earl Bennett, the SECs receptions leader, was injured on a 20-yard pass reception late in the half and did not return.
Arian Foster ran 10 times for 64 yards to lead the Vols on the ground. Lucas Taylor has five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Erik Ainge's incomplete pass was ruled to be a backwards lateral, and Vanderbilt recovered at the Tennessee 16 with 29 seconds left in the first half. The Commodores were unable to gain a yard, but Bryan Hahnfeldt's 33-yard field goal extended Vandy's lead to 17-9 with five seconds left in the first half.
Jeff Jennings, a former Jefferson County standout, caught a 19-yard pass from Mackenzi Adams to put Vanderbilt ahead, 14-9, capping an eight-play, 76-yard drive which took just over three minutes.
Jennings was wide open in the middle of the field and was only touched as he ran into the end zone.
tandout Vanderbilt receiver Earl Bennett was injured after catching a 20-yard pass to the Vandy 44. He walked off the field after being looked at by trainers for a couple minutes.
Tennessee drove to the Vanderbilt 17-yard-line, where the drive stalled. Daniel Lincoln avenged his previous misses with a 34-yard field goal to put Tennessee ahead 9-7 with four minutes left in the first half.
The 14-play, 60-yard drive included only two plays of more than ten yards -- a 16-yard completion to Lucas Taylor and an 11-yard Arian Foster run.
Vanderbilt unfurled a 17-play, nine-minute drive which culminated in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Mackenzi Adams to Brad Allen to put the 'Dores ahead, 7-6.
Both teams were held to three-and-outs following Daniel Lincoln's missed field goal, and Vanderbilt took over at its own 22-yard-line with 2:34 left in the first quarter. The Commodores drive spanned 78 yards on 17 plays, taking 9:02 off the clock.
Daniel Lincoln's 42-yard field goal attempt hit off the post, as the Vols failed to score after driving the ball 50 yards into Vandy territory.
After the Vols held Vandy to one first down on their opening drive, Erik Ainge completed two passes to get into Commodore territory. On first down from the Vandy 47, Ainge found Josh Briscoe for a 12-yard completion. Two short completions moved the chains at the 25, but the Vols were unable to go any further. Daniel Lincoln's 42-yard field goal attempt clanked off the post, and Vanderbilt took over at the 25.
During most of the drive, the Vols used a five-wide receiver formation, which resulted in several successful passes.
Erik Ainge passed to Lucas Taylor on an out route, and Taylor dove past the Vanderbilt defender into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown to put Tennessee ahead 6-0 less than four minutes into the game..
Dennis Rogan returned the opening kickoff to the 25, where Erik Ainge started the drive with an 18-yard completion to Austin Rogers. On the next play Arian Foster ran 17 yards to the Vandy 39. After three rushing plays brought up fourth down, an Erik Ainge sneak moved the chains.
On first down from the Commodore 29, Vandy was flagged for holding, propelling the Vols inside the 'Dores 20. Two passes got the Vols to the 7-yard-line, where Ainge hit Taylor on a out route for the 7--yard score.
The extra point by Daniel Lincoln was low, and Vanderbilt blocked it. The miss was Lincoln's first of the season; he had been 41-for-41. On the drive, Arian Foster passed Charlie Garner on Tennessee's all-time rushing list.