Tennessee at Alabama
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TUSCALOOSA, Alabama -- Tennessee and Alabama took their rivalry to new heights. Casey Clausen scored on a one-yard run and found James Banks with the conversion pass in the fifth overtime, lifting No. 22 Tennessee to a 51-43 victory over Alabama in a Southeastern Conference thriller that lasted nearly five hours. It marked the second straight season that the Volunteers (5-2, 3-2 SEC East) were involved in a multiple overtime game. Last season, the Vols needed six overtimes before posting a 41-38 victory over Arkansas. "We were exhausted," Tennessee linebacker Robert Pearce said.
"This was a Tennessee-Alabama classic game. It was a clean, hard-fought game on both sides." Meanwhile, it was longest game in the storied history for Alabama (3-6, 1-4 West). The Crimson Tide had not been involved in an overtime since winning at Florida in 1999. "Just when you think you've seen it all, there's another unbelievable game," Alabama coach Mike Shula said. "Our guys played hard. And you hurt for them because this group deserves better."
By outlasting the Crimson Tide, the Volunteers avoided their first three-game losing streak in the 12-year tenure of coach Phillip Fulmer. It was the highest scoring game in the 86-game series between the teams.
Clausen was a huge reason why the Volunteers came away with their most dramatic victory over the season. The senior quarterback led a 76-yard drive late in the fourth quarter, then came up with some heroics in the second overtime. "I'm always confident and that's part of being a quarterback," Clausen said. After Tim Castille ran 12 yards for a touchdown in the second overtime to give Alabama a 34-27 lead, the Volunteers looked to be in major trouble on their possession. But on a 4th-and-19 play, Clausen kept the game alive with a 25-yard pass to C.J. Leak. On the next play, Clausen found Banks with a six-yard touchdown pass. "There's not a tougher-minded quarterback in the country than Casey Clausen," Fulmer said. On the first play of the third overtime, Clausen found Banks with a 25-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone, giving the Vols a 40-34 lead. But the Crimson Tide answered on a 12-yard TD run by Shaud Williams. Williams had a big afternoon, gaining 167 yards on a career-high 40 carries. "As the game went on, our guys got better," Shula said. "They broke tackles and made the plays. Again, you have to give them credit."
After Brian Bostick and James Wilhoit traded field goals in the fourth overtime, Clausen again came up big for the Vols. On third down inside the Alabama 5, Clausen ran to his right and surged for the first down, narrowly missing a touchdown. But on the next play, he snuck up the middle for a score, then found Banks on a fade pattern for the conversion. Clausen completed 23-of-43 passes for 283 yards with a season-high four touchdowns and no interceptions. He improved to 2-1 in road starts.
The Crimson Tide could not extend the game as they picked up one first down. On 4th-and-2, Brodie Croyle had a pass intended for Dre Fulgham batted away by cornerback Jason Allen in the end zone. "I was expecting a fade rout," said Allen, an Alabama native. "I never thought we'd lose this game."
Croyle's biggest play of the afternoon looked to be a 36-yard TD pass to Triandos Luke with 4:42 left in the third quarter that tied the game at 13-13. He went 21-of-38 for 214 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. "I take my hat off to Brodie Coyle with his shoulder hurting," Clausen said. "That was a great exhibition on his part as well."
Ray Hudson scored on a two-yard run with 4:47 left in the contest to give the Crimson Tide a 20-13 lead and send Bryant Denny Stadium into a frenzy. After each team went three-and-out, Clausen was given a chance to send the game into overtime and the senior signal-caller responded. Working without a timeout, Clausen marched the Vols 76 yards in under a minute. He capped the march by finding Troy Fleming with a one-yard TD pass with 25 seconds left, tying the contest at 20-20.
"Our coaches and players showed a lot of character," Fulmer said. "These kids have been through a lot and I think it is something we can build on."
After the touchdown, the Crimson Tide nearly pulled out a dramatic win. Tyrone Prothro returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards and a face-mask penalty moved the ball to the Tennessee 32, but Bostick had a 45-yard field goal partially blocked with four seconds to go, sending the game into overtime.
"Five overtimes, no one deserves to lose," Alabama defensive back Charlie Peprah said. "Nobody wants to lose. That's about all I can say. It's a tough loss, but there is nothing we can do about that now."