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Surging ‘Vols Rally for Another Win

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Down the home stretch and on the big stage, Tennessee toughness was on clear display.

Tennessee's Gator Bowl experience was, in some ways, its season summed up in one game. The end result was a celebration of both.

Just as the Volunteers rallied through the meat of their schedule, Tennessee, struggling early and trailing to Indiana for much of the second half, proved resilient and true when it mattered most. The Volunteers, down 22-9, scored two touchdowns in the game's final 4:21 to win 22-21, with Eric Gray driving forward for a game-winning 16-yard score. Through ups and downs and the contest's ebb and flow, Tennessee never lost its resolve. In the night's deciding moments, the Volunteers were ready.

For a team that started 1-4, winless in that span in FBS play, persistence proved to be the difference. Remarkably, Tennessee won seven of eight games to end the season, losing only to top-ranked Alabama in that stretch. There was a direction and determination that produced truly rare results. By any measure, the Volunteers finished the year as one of the hottest teams in all of college football.

Down the home stretch and on the big stage, Tennessee toughness was on clear display.

The scene in Jacksonville was an emotional and meaningful one. An impressive crowd of 61,789 fans saw an anticipated showdown come down to the final moments, with the Volunteers coming through in the clutch. A pro-Tennessee venue, with a large portion of the stadium turned orange, erupted as the Volunteers roared back. It was a moment that Tennessee worked hard for.

There was an energy at the end of the game that was powerful; it's a very real momentum that will help the Volunteers continue to move forward.

All that Tennessee has done since mid-October stands as the foundation for the program's future. Winners of six of seven outings to finish the regular season, the Volunteers then took a month off and promptly came back in the new year and won again. It wasn't necessarily pretty in the Gator Bowl, it wasn't necessarily efficient, but it was successful. It was also, for Tennessee, more of the same.

The immediate aftermath of the victory was a special time for the Volunteers and their fans. From a slow start to the season to a slow start to the game, Tennessee kept fighting. Their time in the spotlight, the Volunteers earned.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports