Nov. 26, 2011
(5-7, 1-7 SEC)
(5-7, 2-6 SEC)
BY DREW EDWARDS
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After 26 years, the nation's longest winning streak finally came to an end.
Tennessee fell 10-7 to Kentucky on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium, ending its streak of 26 consecutive victories.
Not only did Tennessee's winning streak -- so much a part of this series that it became known simply as "The Streak" -- come to an end, but the Vols failed to become bowl eligible.
This marks the first time since 1976-77 that the Vols failed to have back-to-back non-winning seasons.
"We had to hit our low point. It's inevitable you're going to hit bottom," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "We're going to begin our climb right now."
Tennessee (5-7, 1-7 in SEC play) had one last chance to climb out of the hole on Saturday. Trailing 10-7 with 2:35 remaining, it moved to its 41-yard line but a sack and two incompletions left the Vols facing fourth and 17 from their 34-yard line.
Bray's final pass of the game was intercepted by Taiedo Smith, and the Wildcats ran the remaining 1:27 off the clock to claim their first victory in the series since 1984.
Kentucky's senior quarterback Morgan Newton knelt three times to finish the game, and fans streamed onto the field to celebrate. But it was an unlikely quarterback who led the Wildcats to the win.
Matt Roark, a reserve receiver who last played quarterback at North Cobb High School in Georgia, started for the Wildcats and rushed for 124 yards. He completed four of his 6 passes for 15 yards.
Tennessee held the Wildcats (5-7, 2-6) to 217 yards of total offense (and just 29 in the fourth quarter), but Kentucky made the most of its opportunities to score.
Trailing 3-0, the Vols moved the ball inside the Kentucky 10-yard line after Tyler Bray found Rajion Neal on a 44-yard pass. Two plays later with Neal at quarterback in the Wildcat formation, the snap sailed over his head and Kentucky recovered.
That turnover set up Co'Shik Williams' 6-yard touchdown run with 14:12 remaining. That touchdown came two plays after Roark appeared to fumble at the end of a 26 yard run to the UT 7 on third and 12.
Dooley challenged the play, and officials upheld the ruling on the field that Roark was down before the ball came loose.
Rajion Neal scored Tennessee's lone touchdown on a 53-yard pass from Tyler Bray early in the fourth quarter. That play closed the gap to three points, but the Vols offense couldn't find another big play in the remaining 12:52.
"Kentucky came out with a little more fire than we did and made the plays they needed to make," junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner said.
Tennessee's offense struggled in the first half, picking up just 129 yards. Bray, playing his second game back after missing the previous five with a broken thumb, completed nine of his 19 passes in the opening half for 79 yards.
He finished 15-of-38 for 215 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. Bray was under the weather this week as well, although he said his illness didn't play a part in his performance Saturday.
"It shouldn't affect me at all," he said. "I played horrible."
The Vols reached Kentucky territory twice in the first half, but missed a 47-yard field goal try and turned the ball over on downs at the Kentucky 31.
Kentucky made the most of its lone drive deep into Tennessee territory. Playing with wide receiver Matt Roark running the option at quarterback, Kentucky moved the ball 62 yards to the UT 7 on its opening possession.
That drive stalled when Malik Jackson and Willie Bohanan stopped Roark for a loss of 2 yards on third down at the UT 5. Craig McIntosh connected on a 24-yard field goal to give Kentucky a 3-0 lead with 4:46 left in the first quarter.
Kentucky held Tennessee scoreless in the first half for the first time since the Vols' 2008 loss to Wyoming.
That loss hit many in the program hard, but Saturday's defeat at Kentucky cut deep.
"It's tough," said Johnson, fighting back tears. "I don't want to go out like this."
For Tennessee's returning players, it will be a long offseason and the first without a bowl game since 2008.
"We've got to go to work to build a new football team," Dooley said. "We've got to go to work. That's all we can do."