Tennessee Defeats Kentucky in Regular Season Finale
Nov. 29, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -As Phillip Fulmer exited the field for the last time as Tennessee coach, fans chanted his name, the game ball was thrust into his hands and he was hoisted to the shoulders of his players.
Fulmer would have preferred not to be saying goodbye, but at least he got a send-off he'll never forget.
"We've had a great run. I wasn't really ready for it to end, but it probably ended as well as it could," said Fulmer, who after 17 years with the Vols is being pushed out of his job.
Tennessee gave him one last win over Kentucky, a 28-10 decision on Saturday night.
It extended the nation's longest active winning streak by one team over another to 24 games and helped the Vols (5-7, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) avoid becoming the first team in program history to lose eight games in a season.
"I feel like that's the way a legend should go out - on top," Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers said of the way Fulmer was carried off the field.
An already bowl-eligible Kentucky (6-6, 2-6) was looking to end the streak that's plagued it since before nearly every player on both teams was born and hoping to avoid a third straight Music City Bowl bid.
"It's never easy to have 24 straight games, of which I have six," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. 'It tears my guts out."
Fulmer announced Nov. 3 that he was accepting Tennessee's decision for this season to be his last coaching the Vols. He said last week after their win at Vanderbilt that November had been like a "three-week long funeral."
About 150 friends and former players gathered for a pregame reception with Fulmer. He participated in the annual senior day tradition of taking one last run through the "T" formed by the band during pregame activities, and the Jumbotron flashed clips of Fulmer through the years during the game.
The players never wavered in their support for Fulmer. Many Vols fans, however, were not so sad to see him go.
The announced attendance was 102,388, a few hundred over capacity, but only about 65,000 fans appeared to be in the stands on a blustery, damp night.
Fulmer leaves as the second winningest coach in Tennessee history behind Gen. Robert R. Neyland. The outgoing dean of the SEC coaches holds a 152-52 overall record, a 75 percent winning record, a national title and two SEC championships.
"To end with 100 more wins than we've had losses is a really great accomplishment," Fulmer said. "I've never really brought that up, but that's not done every day. I'm grateful, very grateful."
He's spent 32 out of the last 38 seasons with the Vols, including 13 as an assistant coach, four years as a player and two as a student assistant.
Former Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin is expected to be the next Vols coach, though Tennessee officials refused to confirm or deny reports about his hiring out of respect for Fulmer. A formal announcement is expected early in the week.
Coming out of halftime with a 7-3 lead, Tennessee played an inspired second half.
On the third play of the third quarter, Jonathan Crompton threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore to give the Vols a 14-3 lead. It was Tennessee's longest play of the season.
The Vols pounded out an 80-yard drive on runs by Crompton, Gerald Jones, Eric Berry and Lennon Creer, who scored on a 5-yard run to put Tennessee up 21-3 with 14:24 in the fourth.
Jones later broke a 55-yard run out of his "G-gun" quarterback package but stepped out of bounds at the Kentucky 1. Back behind center three plays later, he rolled out right and ran into the corner of the end zone for a 28-3 lead with 5:44 left in the fourth.
"They certainly came out in the second half and took it to us," Brooks said. "We couldn't get anything going on offense against a very good defense, but I congratulate Phillip Fulmer and Tennessee."
Tennessee finished with 310 yards on offense, including 210 yards rushing. Crompton completed 6 of 8 passes for 101 yards and the touchdown, and Jones had 67 yards rushing.
Neither team was especially productive on offense in the first half. Tennessee's offense entered the game ranked 116th out of 119 major college teams, though Kentucky wasn't much better at 101st.
Kentucky got on the board first with a 40-yard field goal by Lones Seiber with 5:00 in the first quarter.
Tennessee took the lead for good, when Crompton punched it in on fourth-and-goal from about two inches away.
"I'm not worried about a streak," Cobb said. "I don't know what was going on those last 23 years. I'm only worried about the time that I'm here. I'm oh-and-one right now, and it's time to end that streak."