Nov. 23, 2013
Maxim #7 - Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.
#3 Tennessee 17, Vanderbilt 10, November 29, 1997
By: Brian Rice
Make no mistake, Peyton Manning's final game at Neyland Stadium wasn't his finest, but a team effort for all 60 minutes sent Manning and the rest of the vaunted class of '97 off in style and clinched UT's first appearance in the SEC Championship Game.
Entering the game, Vanderbilt had the Southeastern Conference's top-ranked defense, but a winless 0-7 record in league play to show for it. The Commodores had also frustrated Manning for much his Volunteer career. As a freshman, Manning led the Volunteers to a 65-0 romp in Nashville, but threw just one touchdown in the process. Tennessee had to tough out 12-7 and 14-7 wins in 1995 and 96, and expected another battle for Senior Day 1997.
The teams exchanged futile series on offense throughout the first quarter. The Commodores struck first with a 47-yard field goal on the opening play of the second quarter. Two drives later, Manning engineered a seven-play, 61- yard march highlighted by a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jeremaine Copeland to put UT ahead 7-3.
UT got the ball back shortly before halftime and Manning again moved his team quickly downfield, 41 yards in eight plays. Manning ran for the end zone on the seventh play of the drive, but was pushed out of bounds just short of the goal line, forcing a Jeff Hall field goal with 22 seconds left in the half for a 10-3 lead. Manning dove for a 1-yard touchdown in the third, and it looked as if the Vols would waltz their way to victory. Vanderbilt had other ideas, responding with its first TD of the day on a 14-yard run from freshman Jared McGrath, cutting the UT lead to 17-10.
The Commodores kept pressing as the fourth quarter began, but the Tennessee defense, led by its seniors, continually rose to the challenge. After a defensive stand near midfield, Vandy pinned UT at its own 15 with 8:07 to go. A defensive holding call and a pair of Jamal Lewis runs moved the ball to the 32, where Manning found Shawn Bryson for 28 yards to the Vanderbilt 40, flipping field position in UT's favor. A run for no gain and two incomplete passes forced Tennessee to punt, a play that senior Chris Hogue executed to perfection, pinning the Commodores at the 3.
The Vol defense forced another three-and-out and gave the offense the chance to slam the door following a short Vanderbilt punt to the VU 45. A combination of two Lewis runs followed by Commodore timeout and a Manning incompletion gave the ball back to Vandy at the 20, trailing by a touchdown with just over two minutes remaining and no timeouts.
The Commodores got four yards on a shovel pass on first down, but they would go no farther. Sophomore Dwayne Goodrich, who would be named National Defensive Player of the Week after two interceptions and a fumble recovery, forced an incompletion on second down. Senior Bill Duff batted down a pass on third down and fellow senior Jonathan Brown burst through the line on fourth down, knocking the ball out of the hands of Vanderbilt quarterback Damian Allen for an incomplete pass, giving the Volunteers the ball back and sealing a 17-10 win.
Though Manning accounted for both touchdowns, Lewis was the offensive star, running for 196 yards on 36 carries. The win sent Tennessee to Atlanta, where the Volunteers would win the programs first SEC Title since 1990 with a win over Auburn.
Manning's final game at Neyland wasn't his best, but his last moment in the stadium is iconic. Clad in his full uniform, directing the Pride of the Southland Marching Band in one more rendition of Rocky Top.