With one perfect pass, Arkansas' Clint Stoerner erased a year-old demon and ended Tennessee's chances of repeating as national champion.
Stoerner threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Lucas with 3:44 to play Saturday and gave Arkansas a 28-24 victory over the third-ranked Volunteers.
It was Stoerner who fumbled in the final two minutes last year with Arkansas leading Tennessee 24-22. The Vols turned that gift into a 28-24 victory that was vital in their march to the national title.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said what happened last season could have been a big part of what happened Saturday.
"Most people don't have a chance to be in it," he said, referring to the national championship race. "Emotion plays a big role in this game. It can make you 30 percent better."
One can only imagine the emotion Stoerner must have felt. As the final seconds ticked away, Stoerner took a couple of steps, bent over and put his hands on his knees. His solitude lasted just seconds before he was swarmed by fans mostly students. One goal post toppled, then the other.
"What happened to us last year just wasn't right," said Stoerner, adding his feelings were difficult to describe. "I know I hold a lot of stuff in."
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt teared up in the locker room as he spoke of Stoerner.
"He's lived with last year's game for a year, even though it wasn't his fault," Nutt said. "He is a man. He never backed down from accepting blame. This victory has to be very sweet for him."
The Vols reached the Arkansas 17 with less than 90 seconds to play, but Tee Martin's fourth-down pass was too high for Cedrick Wilson.
"We were outcoached and outplayed," said Fulmer, who lost to Arkansas for the first time in seven games. "They ran better thn anybody else has against us this year and we had no pass rush."
Tennessee held the only double-digit lead 24-14 after Travis Henry's 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. That score came three plays after a pass by Stoerner was deflected twice and then intercepted by Raynoch Thompson.
Less than three minutes later, Stoerner and Boo Williams hooked up on a 53-yard touchdown pass that cut the lead to 24-21 and kept the pressure on the Vols. Williams got a step on Dwayne Goodrich, took Stoerner's perfect throw in stride and lunged across the goal line with Goodrich wrapped around his legs.
Martin completed three passes for 67 yards and a first down at the Arkansas 16, but Ontraia Moss on a blitz grabbed Martin's right arm and then recovered the fumble at the Arkansas 19. Late in the first half, Tennessee reached the Arkansas 14, but Martin under immense pressure from Moss was called for grounding and the Vols punted.
Arkansas' winning touchdown drive began when Emmanuel Smith stretched and grabbed Stoerner's 19-yard pass over the middle. Tailbacks Cedric Cobbs, Michael Jenkins and Chrys Chukwuma carried for 39 yards on the next five plays as the much maligned offensive line opened some holes.
"Shannon Money and I looked at each other in the huddle and said `We are going to do this,"' center Josh Melton said of his fellow lineman. "We got that fire in our eyes. On the last play, I backed up to pass block and their line looked a little timid, like they were expecting the run. Then I saw the pass go over my head and the rest is history."
Tennessee tailback Jamal Lewis tried to look at last week's upset that saw then-No. 2 Penn State lose and drop in the national picture.
"Things happen, just like Penn State and Minnesota," he said. "The Florida loss got us down but this loss is harder to take."
The Vols led 17-14 at halftime even though they had the ball almost 20 minutes and ran twice as many plays as the Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks, who have had trouble coming from behind this year, got off to a much-needed fast start.
On the Vols' second play, Martin's pass bounced off Lewis' hands and right to David Barrett, who made a couple of nice cuts on his way to the end zone 43 yards away.
Rossi Morreale, extremely reliable for two years, muffed a punt and Constantin Ritzmann recovered at the Arkansas 30. Martin immediately threw a side-arm strike to Bobby Graham for 13 yards. After two pass interference penalties, Lewis scored from the 1 for a 10-7 lead.
Stoerner's 6-yard pass to Joe Dean Davenport gave Arkansas the lead, but the Vols responded with an 80-yard drive that started with Martin's on-the-move throw to Eric Parker for 16. On third-and-10, the Vols put three wide receivers to the left and Martin threw quickly to Wilson, split right. A couple of lineman escorted him down field for 44 yards. On first down from the 19, Marin rolled left, felt Jermaine Petty closing from the back side, cut upfield, headed right across the grain and scored standing up.
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