This time, everything goes right for Vols in final quarter
Posted: Monday, September 24, 2012 7:00 pm
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tyler Bray’s reversal of fourth-quarter fortune assured that Tennessee avoided a second straight devastating loss.
Bray threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night as the Volunteers gained 633 yards of total offense and pulled away in the second half for a 47-26 victory over Akron in front of an announced crowd of 81,719 at Neyland Stadium.
One week after giving up the final 24 points in a 37-20 loss to Florida, Tennessee (3-1) ended Saturday’s game on a 17-0 run. Bray had gone 1-of-10 in the fourth quarter last week and closed the game with seven straight incompletions. He went 6-of-7 for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the final period against Akron (1-3).
“We knew they were going to get tired and they were going to wear down,” Bray said. “That’s what happened.”
Bray, who went 27-of-43, also put the Vols ahead for good with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Rajion Neal that broke a 23-23 tie with 6:47 left in the third quarter. Neal rushed for a career-high 151 yards on 22 carries, while Justin Hunter caught eight passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Akron quarterback Dalton Williams went 27-of-49 for 229 yards with three interceptions. Byron Moore picked off two passes and became the first Tennessee player to collect multiple interceptions in a game since Eric Berry in 2007.
The Volunteers’ second-half outburst kept the Mid-American Conference’s productive day from becoming even more memorable.
Earlier in the day, four MAC teams had beaten major-conference opponents. Central Michigan edged Iowa 32-31, Western Michigan defeated Connecticut 30-24, Northern Illinois beat Kansas 30-23 and Ball State rallied for a 31-27 victory over South Florida.
The MAC had one of its best days since Sept. 20, 2003, when Marshall defeated No. 6 Kansas State, Toledo edged No. 9 Pittsburgh and Northern Illinois beat No. 21 Alabama.
An Akron victory would have represented the biggest surprise of all.
Akron, a 33-point underdog, headed into Neyland Stadium on a 21-game road losing streak and had been outscored 256-19 in its five previous games with SEC opponents.
But the Zips gave Tennessee all it could handle for most of the night. Akron coach Terry Bowden, the son of former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, seemed intent on avenging his dad’s 23-16 loss to Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl that decided the 1998 national champion.
With his father watching from the Akron section of the stands after speaking to the team before the game, Bowden displayed the acumen that helped him post a 47-17-1 record at Auburn from 1993-98.
“I’m not happy,” Bowden said. “I am really disappointed. But I am really proud of our players for coming in here and not accepting the fact that they are supposed to lose.”
Akron continually capitalized on the Vols’ mistakes.
Avis Commack picked off Bray’s second pass of the night and raced 44 yards down the Tennessee sideline to give Akron an early 7-0 lead. Robert Stein kicked a 45-yard field goal after Kurt Mangum recovered a Neal fumble at the Tennessee 29. Stein added a 32-yard field goal to cap a drive kept alive by a third-down pass interference penalty on Justin Coleman.
The momentum really turned in Akron’s favor late in the second quarter.
Tennessee led 20-16 and had fourth-and-1 on the Akron 29 when Vols linebacker A.J. Johnson took a snap out of the Wildcat formation. Johnson, who had rushed for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter, was stuffed for no gain this time. On the next play, Akron’s Quentin Hines ran for a 70-yard touchdown that put the Zips in front 23-20. Tennessee needed a 22-yard field goal from Derrick Brodus with 1:03 remaining just to head into the locker room tied.
“It was a tough game, and I knew it would be,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “They cause a lot of problems with their offense, but the disappointing part was the turnovers early in the game.”
We spotted them 10 points on turnovers.”
Akron seemed ready to regain the lead after driving to Tennessee’s 15 on its first possession of the second half, but Moore picked off a pass near the goal line. Tennessee got an even bigger break later in the third quarter when a fumble by Vols tight end Mychal Rivera was overturned on replay. That allowed Tennessee to maintain possession on the drive that ended with Bray’s tiebreaking touchdown pass to Neal.
“They were really calm at halftime,” Dooley said. “There wasn’t any panic.”
Akron wouldn’t go away. The Zips cut the lead to 30-26 with 14:50 remaining when Stein connected on a 37-yarder for his fourth field goal of the night.
Brodus answered with a 28-yard field goal on Tennessee’s next drive to extend the lead to seven again. This time, Akron wouldn’t respond.
Eric Gordon’s diving interception of a Williams pass gave Tennessee the ball at the Akron 19, and Bray found Hunter in the end zone on the very next play. Bray added a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Carter that closed the scoring with 6:34 left.
“(Bray) made a lot of mistakes early on,” Dooley said. “He was off. He was rushing. He was getting antsy. I could feel it. He just kept settling in and he played well down the stretch. He had a good demeanor about him. It was a big step for him.”
Published in The Messenger 9.24.12