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 minutes 44 seconds to play today and gave Arkansas a 28-24 victory over the third-ranked Volunteers.
Last year, Stoerner fumbled in the final two minutes with Arkansas leading Tennessee 24-22. The Vols turned the gift into a victory that was vital in their march to the national title.
Saturday's outcome knocked the Vols (7-2, 4-2 SEC) out of a chance to defend that championship and put Arkansas (6-3, 3-3) in position for a bowl game only a week after a horrendous performance against Mississippi.
Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer said what happened last season could have been a big part of what happened today.
"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."
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.
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," Stoerner said, 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."
While the goal post thieves headed for the end zone where Lucas scored, Stoerner signed autographs, was patted on the back, hugged his girlfriend, who is a cheerleader, and even posed for a few snapshots. The crowd on the field started to grow, and he needed 15 minutes to reach the dressing room door.
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 Raynock 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.
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, during which the much maligned offensive line opened some holes.
The Vols led 17-14 at halftime after holding the ball almost 20 minutes and running twice as many plays as the Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks, who have had trouble overcoming deficits this year, got off to a much needed fast start.
On the Vols' second play, Martin's pass bounced off Lewis's hands and right to David Barrett, who made a couple of nice cuts on his way to the end zone 43 yards away.