Oct. 24, 2013
Each Thursday, Brian Rice will take a look back at the Lowe's #DefiningMoments. This week, the first overtime game in series history produces an all-time classic in the greatest rivalry in Southern football.
By Brian Rice
A pair of reeling football teams collided in Tuscaloosa for the Third, er, Fourth Saturday in October in 2003.
Tennessee, after a hot 4-0 start that saw the team rise to as high as #7 in the Associated Press rankings, had lost back-to-back games to Auburn and Georgia and had an off-week to think about avoiding a third-straight loss, something the Vols hadn't experienced since 1992.
Alabama, a season removed from a 10-3 record, entered the game at 3-5, fresh off a 43-28 loss to Ole Miss in Oxford. The Crimson Tide had already experienced the three-game losing streak that UT entered hoping to avoid, dropping games to Norther Illinois, Arkansas and Georgia.
The old football cliché says you can throw out the records when two old rivals get together, and in few series has that been more true than Tennessee-Alabama, even with the game played a week later than the traditional third Saturday.
Both teams struggled through an ugly first half. Tennessee fumbled three times in the opening quarter, including one by Mark Jones on a punt return that led to UA's first field goal.
Down 3-0 in the closing minutes of the first half, Jason Allen blocked a Crimson Tide field goal attempt and a 16-yard Cedric Houston run and 47-yard completion from Casey Clausen to James Banks later, James Wilhoit nailed a tying 31-yard field goal with 48 seconds left in the half.
Alabama appeared content with the score and called a draw play to get the clock back in motion and head toward halftime. But Shaud Williams busted through the line for 44 yards on the play and the Tide re-took the lead, 6-3, with a 48-yard field goal with :12 left.
Tennessee came out firing in the second half. A personal foul penalty that carried over from the final play of the first half combined with a 19-yard kick return gave UT the ball at its own 41. Five Houston runs later, wide receiver (and converted quarterback) James Banks lined up under center for the first time in 2003 and scored from 25 yards out on a QB draw to give UT its first lead at 10-6. The lead expanded to 13-6 when UT turned a Corey Campbell interception into points with a Wilhoit field goal.
Alabama came right back on its next possession with a scoring drive to tie the game at 13-13. UT stopped UA on four straight plays from inside the 5-yard line later in the fourth quarter, but couldn't flip field position on offense, giving the ball to the Tide at its own 45. After Brodie Croyle found Zach Fletcher for 51 yards, Ray Hudson popped the ball up the middle for the go-ahead TD with 4:47 left.
After the teams traded punts, Clausen got the ball back with 1:52 on the clock and 86 yards to go. Clausen methodically drove the Volunteers down the field, completing 6-of-8 passes on the drive, capped by a 1-yard toss to Troy Fleming with 25 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 20-20.
Alabama had one final shot in regulation after Tyrone Prothro returned the kickoff 39 yards, plus a 15-yard facemask penalty against UT. But Brian Bostick's field goal try from 45 yards out fell short, and the teams were off to overtime.
Each team put a touchdown on the board in the opening overtime period, and Alabama did the same in its possession in the second OT. Clausen took a sack on first down and two incompletions later, the Vols looked dead in the water facing fourth-and-19 at the 34. Tennessee needed 19 yards, Clausen fired to a wide open C.J. Fayton on a crossing route for 29. Clausen stepped out of a tackle to find Banks on a deflection for the tying 5-yard TD on the next play, and the classic game continued.
UT needed just one play to score in the third overtime, as Clausen went right back to Banks for the 25-yard TD in the corner of the end zone off of a beautiful play-action fake. UT's two-point try failed, and an Alabama TD set up another potential game-deciding play on the ensuing 2-point conversion. After each team took a timeout, Croyle threw to his right, where Jabari Greer stepped in front of the pass for the only interception for either team in the game.
The fourth overtime kept the game all square with field goals from each side and it was off to a fifth overtime tied 43-43.
After an aerial show for much of the second half, the Volunteers went old school in the fifth OT. Corey Larkins ran straight ahead on four straight plays followed by a pair of Clausen QB sneaks to put UT up, 49-43. UT went back to the air on the 2-point conversion, as Banks out-lept Alabama defensive back Ramsey Robinson in the end zone for his seventh reception of the day and a 51-43 lead.
Prothro ran for nine yards on a sweep on UA's first play, but the UT defense stuffed Williams on second and third down, setting up fourth-and-two with the game on the line. Croyle went for the end zone instead of the first down and Allen was there to get just a finger on it to end the play and the game.
Clausen finished 23-of-43 for 283 yards and four touchdowns, a performance that pushed his road record as a starter at Tennessee to 12-1.
Banks set career highs in yards with 103 and touchdowns with two.
UT would finish the regular season at 10-2, the seventh 10-win season in 11 years under Phillip Fulmer and make its second-consecutive appearance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.