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Coming through in the clutch
Tennessee steps up to Mississippi State's challenge
Posted: Sunday December 06, 1998 01:41 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- No. 1 Tennessee's designs on the national championship nearly died in a flurry of blitzes and big plays by Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday.
But as they have done all through an undefeated season, the Volunteers responded to trouble.
The Vols offense, stifled most of the night by Mississippi State's gambling defense, redeemed itself with a 75-yard drive after the Bulldogs took a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
Then the swarming Tennessee defense got the ball right back at the Bulldog 26-yard-line, and the Vols struck for the clinching score on the next play.
In just three plays and 28 seconds, the Vols had transformed a fourth-quarter deficit into a round-trip ticket to the national championship game in Arizona.
Tennessee was the only one of the top three undefeated teams to avoid the upset bid on Saturday. UCLA and Kansas State lost.
Those games may have muddied the picture for everyone else, but to Tennessee everything is crystal clear. They're 12-0 and headed to the Fiesta Bowl, and let the Bowl Championship Series computers sort out the rest.
The winning scores came on Tee Martin passes of 41 yards to MVP Peerless Price and 26 yards to Cedrick Wilson.
The Bulldogs scored on a 70-yard interception return in the first quarter and an 83-yard punt return by Kevin Prentiss with 8:43 remaining for the lead.
The defenses controlled most of the game. Tennessee had trouble picking up Mississippi State's blitzes all night. Martin finished with 15 completions in 32 attempts for 208 yards.
The Vols defense controlled the line of scrimmage against the Bulldog offense and harassed freshman quarterback Wayne Madkin into a 10-of-22 performance for just 84 yards.
James Johnson, the SEC's leading rusher, was held to 38 yards in 14 carries, and the Bulldogs got just 65 yards on the ground overall.
Al Wilson picked off a Madkin pass and returned it for an apparent touchdown in the third quarter, but the score was called back by a clipping penalty. Wilson also got his hands on the clinching fumble in the fourth quarter, but fumbled it right back. Fellow linebacker Eric Westmoreland was there to recover for the Vols.
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