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KNOXVILLE – It’s been a long time since folks could say they tuned into a Tennessee-Alabama game and were remotely entertained. That changed on Saturday afternoon.
The first quarter will be hard to forget, and helped propelled the Vols to the win, breaking a 16-game losing streak to Alabama. It was pretty much a beatdown from Tennessee in the first 23 minutes, before Alabama started its comeback. Leading 28-10 in the first half, Tennessee looked poise to runaway with this game, if it weren’t for QB Bryce Young.
A thought that has haunted Tennessee for the longest time was creeping back into the picture. Could there be a way the Vols could finally get over this daunting task and put down the Tide, Nick Saban?
Many predicted Tennessee would score over 30 points, but Alabama gave up over 40 points for the first time since 2020. The Tide’s performance even caused head coach Nick Saban to lose his mind in the first half.
But despite the porous defense and special teams errors, Alabama stuck around all game thanks to their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, Bryce Young.
A 3rd-and-goal from the Tennessee 1-yard line turned into a 3rd-and-goal from 16-yard line following back-to-back Tide penalties, but a defensive pass interference in the end-zone changed momentum.
Just when fans clad in orange were thinking the Vols had forced the FG chance, Alabama found a way to score a touchdown. Not only did they score a touchdown, but they took the lead for the first time in the game, 35-34. Tennessee had scored on their opening drive and didn’t trail until that late third quarter score.
Tense energy throughout the stadium, writers tapping hard on their laptops and nervous coaches down the hall from the press box said it all. Tennessee had come so close to finally defeating the big-bad bully, but let them take it away in the second half. For the first time in 261 attempts, Hendon Hooker threw an interception, sending the crowd into a deflated mode.
But Tennessee, feeding off the energy of this massive sold-out crowd, delivered once again. After forcing a Bama punt, Hooker redeemed himself and the offense, hitting Jalin Hyatt down the sideline and he took it the rest of the way for a 78-yard score. It was the junior receiver’s fourth touchdown of the day.
Following a successful two-point conversion, Tennessee had its full touchdown lead back, 42-35. But it wouldn’t last. Alabama went on a methodical 10-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game.
But the problem for Alabama wasn’t the offense, it was the defense. And if you want to talk about a redemption story, it came in the form of a massive Tennessee mistake. A botched quarterback-running back exchange for the Vols allowed Alabama defensive lineman Dallas Turner to scoop-and-score from 11 yards out. The Tide now had a seven-point lead, their largest of the game, on the backs of a defense that had been torched all afternoon long.
But this game, which can only be described as bonkers, wasn’t done. Hooker and the Tennessee offense, facing a fourth-and-five from the Alabama 29-yard line, had to go for it. Hooker was chased out of the pocket and forced to chuck the ball up and it was intercepted, which appeared to seal the game for the Tide.
But after a lengthy conversation among the officials, Alabama was ruled to haev committed defensive pass interference, giving the Vols a new set of down. On the very next play, Hooker threw his fifth touchdown of the contest hitting, who else, Jalin Hyatt. Hyatt, who came into the game with five touchdown catches on the season, doubled his total on Saturday.
With the game tied once again, and just over three minutes left in the game, Alabama took over on offense. The Tide converted two third downs to get themselves up the field before finally stalling out. They brought on senior kicker Will Reichard for a go-ahead 50-yard field goal with under 20 seconds left. But the kick was left out to the right and never had a chance.
With the game still tied, Hooker trotted back out to the field with just 15 seconds left. But that was more than enough time for the kid who carved up the defense all game long. Back-to-back completions netted 45 yards and it was Tennessee’s turn to send out their kicker to try and win the game.
From 40 yards out, senior Chase McGrath sneaked it through the uprights and the curse was lifted. The losing streak to Alabama was over and the Volunteers moved to 6-0 on the season. The celebration was on in Knoxville as fans STORMED the field.
When the new AP Poll is released this week, Tennessee will likely find itself in the Top 3 for the first time this late in a season in over 20 years. And their eyes are now squarely set on the SEC Championship and potential College Football Playoff berth.
But those are conversations for another day. On Saturday, it was time to party on Rocky Top.