Oct. 28, 2006
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer earned the right to take a couple of verbal pokes at Steve Spurrier this year.
Don't count on the Vols' coach doing it. That's just not his style.
"He's a good coach," was about all Fulmer would say about of his Southeastern Conference rival after No. 8 Tennessee beat South Carolina 31-24 Saturday night. "I don't know where all that gets started."
If Fulmer really wanted to find the answer, all he had to do was glance across the field at Spurrier.
The Gamecocks ball coach has made his reputation through the years beating then needling the Vols. He did it again this week as South Carolina relived last season's historic 16-15 victory at Neyland Stadium, its first win in Knoxville.
After this one, Fulmer had every right to gloat, but didn't.
"There are times we should've won and didn't. There are times he should've won and didn't. That's the way it," he said. "We're glad to get a win so we can improve to 7-1."
"That was a hard loss," Tennessee's Marvin Mitchell said. "They beat us last year, but hey, we got them this year."
Spurrier has largely had his way with Tennessee (7-1, 3-1) through the years. The coach won at Neyland Stadium with Duke in 1988, then took eight of 12 games from the Vols as Gators coach from 1990-2001. And when Rocky Top supporters gleefully planned for revenge after Spurrier took over at South Carolina, they were still left frustrated.
That last defeat was particularly embarrassing to the Big Orange. The Vols had retired the jersey of Peyton Manning, then outplayed South Carolina throughout, falling on Josh Brown's improbable 49-yard field goal - a victory even Spurrier described as a miracle.
It looked like Spurrier's hex was in effect again at Williams-Brice Stadium after South Carolina (5-3, 3-3) overcame a two-touchdown deficit to lead 17-14 after three quarters.
But Ainge found Smith on a 12-yard TD pass to put the Vols ahead for good with 13:10 left. After forcing South Carolina to punt on its next possession, Jonathan Hefney had a 65-yard punt return to South Carolina's 5 and Arian Foster scored on the next play.
The Gamecocks closed to 31-24 on Syvelle Newton's 1-yard TD run with 2:24 to go. Tennessee was forced to punt - Ainge was out with a bad ankle on the series - and South Carolina had one final chance. However, Newton's desperation heave was intercepted by Demetrice Morley as time ran out.
Newton threw for 230 yards and three interceptions.
"We don't have to worry about winning the SEC this year," Spurrier said. "We can go back to trying to win six or seven games and having an excellent season. The pressure is off us completely."
Spurrier's always loved picking at Tennessee and this week couldn't keep himself from again having a little fun at the Vols' expense.
He was explaining how since the winners are usually the ones who tell jokes, and how Tennessee didn't win too many of its matchups with Spurrier's Gators, "maybe they weren't telling too many up" in Knoxville.
Now, it's the Vols turn to laugh it up - at least for this year. The victory pushed Fulmer one ahead of the ball coach in SEC wins after the two came in tied at 134 each.
"I don't know what's going on with them two," Tennessee receiver Jayson Swain said of the opposing coaches. "I got nothing to do with that. That's them two. I'm just happy we came down here and got a win against those guys on the field."
The Vols road to the SEC championship game doesn't get much easier the next two weeks. They take on No. 14 LSU and No. 13 Arkansas before closing the SEC against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Even if Tennessee wins out, it would need help from an SEC team to knock off Florida - perhaps Spurrier's Gamecocks who go to Gainesville on Nov. 11? - to represent the Eastern Division.
Tennessee looked like it would make quick work of the Gamecocks.
Mitchell picked off Newton's pass on the second play of the game and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.
Jonathan Wade's interception in the end zone ended a long South Carolina drive and Ainge took Tennessee 80 yards for a touchdown.
Ainge found Smith with a 5-yard scoring pass that caromed off South Carolina defenders Emanuel Cook and Stoney Woodson before Smith grabbed it for a 14-0 lead.
South Carolina rallied on Ryan Succop's 50-yard field goal - his third of at least 49 yards or longer this year - and an 18-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Mike West.