This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Though the Tennessee football team did not have the opportunity to make any history this weekend, Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller kicked off the second half of the Commodores’ game against Mizzou, becoming the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game. Her historic kick came less than a week after she helped her soccer team secure the Southeastern Conference title. While Fuller made history for women in sport, the Lady Vol basketball team commenced its season in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee picked up a commanding win to open the 2020-21 slate, beating Western Kentucky 87-47.
Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols will play host to rivals Florida this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The game traditionally played in September received a December reschedule because of COVID-19. The Lady Vols will face regional opponents from East Tennessee State University tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in Knoxville. Before they do, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at moments this week in UT sports history:
Dec. 1, 2007
Hearts broke in the Georgia Dome.
The No. 14 Tennessee Volunteers eyed a chance to keep No. 5 LSU from the BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl. The Tigers seemed rattled entering the Southeastern Conference Championship game. The day prior, news broke that defensive coordinator Bo Pelini would leave his position to go to Nebraska. Then, prior to the game, ESPN speculated Les Miles would accept the head coaching position at Michigan, which Miles called a press conference to deny.
“I certainly love Michigan. I will always be a Michigan man,” he said of his alma mater. “It saddens me at times I can’t be in two places.”
However, Miles vehemently denied his departure, and his team bought in to his commitment. Yet, with a backup quarterback starting for the Bayou Bengals, Vol Nation prepared to make a case for Pasadena.
Then came the fourth quarter.
Tennessee led by one point entering the final quarter, 14-13. The Vols had gotten on the board early on as Erik Ainge led a six-play drive to the endzone, covering 57 yards in the first three minutes of the game. Ainge would finish the day with three passing touchdowns, but only two of them stood awarded to Tennessee. LSU’s Jonathan Zenon intercepted Ainge at the Tennessee 18 with 9:54 left to play, taking it to the endzone to go up 19-14 before a two-point conversion made it a seven-point game.
The crowd of 73,832 watched as LSU dashed Tennessee’s national championship hopes. Georgia Bulldog fans had a little chuckle in Atlanta that night after the Vols had prevented them from the conference title game. Georgia, the No. 2 team in the country by season’s end, had tied with Tennessee for first place in the Eastern Division. Tennessee had won the tiebreaker against the border state team, 35-14, on Oct. 6. The Bulldogs’ commanding 41-10 win against Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl placed them in the AP’s second spot behind eventual national champion LSU.
Following the SEC title loss, media asked Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer which bowl game he would prefer.
“We’d like to go to the Rose Bowl, how about that?” he said.
No dice. Tennessee moved to No. 12 and beat Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl, 21-17. At the end of the 2007 season, Duke tapped Vols offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe for its head coaching job, which he retains.
Tennessee lost to Florida, 59-20, in Gainesville that season during a 3:30 p.m. game. The 2020 team hopes to avoid the same fate in Knoxville this Saturday, but a season riddled by challenges bodes ill for the Vols.
Dec. 2, 2007
One day after Tennessee lost on the gridiron, the defending champion Lady Vols held off No. 4 North Carolina for a victory in Knoxville. Tennessee extended its win streak to six with the 83-79 win.
The Tarheels had wanted revenge. In a Final Four matchup during the NCAA women’s tournament on April 1, a late 20-2 run from the Lady Vols and team leader Candace Parker propelled Tennessee to the title game with a 56=50 win against North Carolina. Parker fought Tarheel Alex Miller for the ball in the final minute of the game, gaining possession for the win. She would finish the game with 14 points and 13 rebounds, one of many double-doubles in her illustrious career.
The top-ranked Lady Vols again held the advantage in the rematch eight months later. With a 13-point lead and just a little more than six minutes remaining, Tennessee prepared to add another W to the season record. Then, North Carolina seemed it would give the Lady Vols a taste of their own medicine, going on a 17-5 run. The score stood 79-78.
Unlike the Tarheels, Tennessee wouldn’t let its opponent take the win. With Summitt staring down her players, Alexis Hornbuckle found a way to win, hitting free throws and one last basket to seal the victory. She had 25 points in the game.
Summitt gave credit to North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell and her team.
“It was a game of runs,” Summitt said. “North Carolina never went away. They did a great job of coming at us.”
Hatchell described the matchup as a national championship game, one great for women’s basketball. She hoped the two teams would face one another again.
The orange and white win streak would endure for 20 subsequent days as the Lady Vols picked up four more wins before losing to Stanford in overtime, 73-69. Of course, Summitt’s team would have the last laugh, beating Stanford 64-48 to repeat as national champions in the legendary coach’s eighth title win.
Summitt’s protégée Kelly Harper and the Lady Vols face ETSU tomorrow night. The team from Johnson City lost last year’s contest, 72-68, at Freedom Hall on Nov. 5.