Dec. 7, 1998
By Gabe Correa - Smokey's Trail(ATLANTA, GEORGIA) -- -- Mississippi State came to play football, and was so fired up with that dance they performed on the field. They were looking for an upset for sure, but the Tennessee Vols stood their ground and never gave up, even when they got behind.
I was there in the dome when Mississippi State took the lead 14-10 with the punt return of 83 yards for a touchdown in the 4th quarter with 8:43 to play. I said to myself, they haven't quit all year and they're not going to start now, and sure enough, the Vols came back and scored two touchdowns in 28 seconds.
I said in the beginning that Tennessee has the best defense as far as I could remember. Any good defense makes a good offense look bad. Mississippi State has a good defense and came often to slow Tee Martin and did a very good job of stopping him.
Now there's only one game left to play and why not play the best team, Florida State. We are already the underdog in this one because the way they handled Florida. It's just one more game that we've got to prove to the world that we are the best team.
If a unranked team gets fired up to beat a number 1 team like Ohio State, there's no reason that we can't get fired up to play Florida State. It just takes every player individually to determine in his mind he's going to be the best in the land.
This is what you worked hard for all year, to play in the title game of Champions. In my opinion, you're the best team in the land.
It wasn't easy. Tennessee needed a fourth-quarter comeback worthy of a champion to assure itself of a chance to play for the national title in the Jan. 4th Fiesta Bowl. Martin, harassed most of the night by incessant blitzing, threw two touchdown passes 28 seconds apart to erase Mississippi State's 14-10 lead.
''The chance to play for a national championship comes around once in a lifetime,'' said Peerless Price, who caught a 41-yard touchdown pass that put the Vols ahead with 6:15 remaining. ''We knew we had to pick it up. The defense played great. They kept us in the game. They gave us a chance to come back.''
The Vols quarterback Tee Martin launched a rocket to Price on first down at the Mississippi State 41-yard line. Price leaped into the air with a Bulldog defender on his back and fell into the back corner of the end zone.
Tennessee 17, Mississippi State 14. ''It was a takeoff route and I knew I had to break free,'' Price said. ''I told Tee all season to give me a chance. 'I'll go deep, if you give me a chance to make a play, I'll make it.' He gave me a chance and I made the play."
Raynoch Thompson knew he had been in a street fight. The Tennessee linebacker and his teammates traded punches all night with Mississippi State as the Vols withstood an upset-bid by the Bulldogs. ''They gave us their best tonight and I take my hat off to them,'' Thompson said. ''We tried to stick in there and get more turnovers than their defense got. We just had to keep pounding.'' Mississippi State was held to 149 yards on offense, only 65 on the ground, which has been their bread and butter all season. Points were few and far between.
Like everything else that has come to the Vols this season, the victory over Mississippi State was a group effort. And defensive tackle Darwin Walker said that was no surprise. ''There are teams with more stars and maybe a few better players, but this is the best total team I've ever seen in college football, Walker said. ''If the offense is struggling, the defense picks it up. If the defense gives up some big plays, the offense scores enough points to win.
It's a real team because we do what we have to do to win." Asked if he was concerned that this might be the game where the Vols' offense never really kicked in, Walker said: ''You just have to wait. Those guys have made big plays all year so I had faith in them.
Report CardOffense Grade = A+
Most Notable Players: Tee Martin, Travis Henry, Travis Stephens, Shawn Bryson, Peerless Price, Cedrick Wilson, Jeremaine Copeland, Jeff Hall, Chad Clifton, Cosey Coleman, Spencer Riley, Jarvis Reado, Mercedes Hamilton, Reggie Coleman, Eric Parker, Eric Diogu, David Leaverton, John Finlayson and the rest of the offensive line.
Defense Grade = A+
Most Notable Players: Al Wilson, Shaun Ellis, Chris Ramseur, Eric Westmoreland, Raynoch Thomson, Derrick Edmonds, Darwin Walker, Dwayne Goodrich, Fred White, Deon Grant, Billy Ratliff, Corey Terry, Ron Green, Jeff Coleman, Fred White, Steve Johnson, Gerald Griffin, Andre Lott and the rest of the defensive line.
Tennessee 24, Miss State 14
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