They were rescued by the worst kind of miracle. Razorbacks junior quarterback Clint Stoerner, trying to run a naked bootleg on second-and-12, stumbled, reached down to regain his balance and left the ball on the ground. Tennessee junior defensive tackle Billy Ratliff landed on top of it on the Razorbacks' 43-yard line.
It might be the stuff national tides are made of—like the fluke kicked ball that helped Nebraska beat Missouri in overtime last year on the way to a conational championship. The Vols (9-0) cashed in the turnover for a touchdown and a 28-24 win. "You're playing the Number 1 team in the country, and you're about to beat them—how many people get a chance like that?" Stoerner asked. "All I have to do is hold on to the football, and I can't do it."
After recovering the fumble, the Volunteers called on sophomore Travis Henry, the No. 2 high school rusher in Florida history behind Emmitt Smith. During his senior year at Frostproof High, he ran for 4,087 yards in 14 games. Last year, as a freshman at Tennessee, he carried the ball twice for four yards. Over the summer he considered transferring.
"I didn't care if I went down a level; I just wanted to play," Henry said. The Volunteers coaches and his mother persuaded him to stay put. When sophomore starter Jamal Lewis suffered a season-ending knee injury last month, Henry had a couple of 100-yard games as the backup to Travis Stephens. Less than eight minutes into the first quarter on Saturday, when Stephens fumbled for the third time in two weeks and was yanked from the game, the 5'11", 212-pound Henry was suddenly indispensable. He rushed 32 times for 197 yards—the last 43 coming on the Vols' winning drive. On that last drive he ran like a bull in a blindfold, charging into obstacles and getting madder each time he hit some-tiling. "I dunk I get better as the game goes on," Henry said.
Should the Vols and Hogs hold on to their division leads, they will meet again in Atlanta on Dec. 5 in the SEC title game. Stoerner can have his revenge within three weeks—and how many people get a chance like that?
Too Late for The Trophy
Had he not laid an egg in a 38-17 loss at North Carolina State on Oct. 1, Syracuse senior quarterback Donovan McNabb might have won the Heisman based just on his performance last Saturday night. McNabb directed the Orangemen 83 yards in 14 plays in the final 4:42, finishing the game with a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Stephen Brominski that gave Syracuse a 28-26 homecoming victory over 16th-ranked Virginia Tech. On the final drive McNabb either threw or ran on 12 of the 14 plays, including a 42-yard scramble to the Hokies' 15 on fourth-and-seven. He finished with 289 total yards and two touchdown passes, both to Brominski.
"He put the team on his back and said, 'Let's go,' " Syracuse offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers said Sunday night. Virginia Tech bottled up McNabb in the first half as it took a 21-3 lead, prompting fans to offer Rogers advice. In the Carrier Dome there are seats adjacent to the press box, from whence assistant coaches watch the game. "They sell pizzas in triangular cardboard boxes," Rogers said. "People were writing plays on the back of the boxes and slamming them on the window in front of my face. It got so bad I thought about using them."
Before the game's final play McNabb ran to the sideline and threw up out of sheer exhaustion. Thus purged, he took the snap, rolled to his right and then threw crossfield off his back foot. With a move that would have made basketball coach Jim Boeheim proud, the 6'5" Brominski boxed out 6-foot linebacker Michael Hawkes, leaped and caught the pass. Pandemonium erupted as fans poured onto the field. Syracuse old-timers can't recall the last time that happened. Barring upsets this week, the Orangemen will host Miami on Nov. 28 with a Bowl Championship Series berth at stake.
Chopping Down The Jerry Tree