By Sports Illustrated
Fearless Peerless: Price finished with four catches for 199 yards with the game-winning touchdown |
(TEMPE, Ariz.) -- -- In one priceless play, Peerless lived up to his name.
Early in the fourth quarter Monday night, Peerless Price saw a sure touchdown -- and a national championship bounce off his chest into the hands of a defender.
Just four minutes later, Tennessee's big-play receiver gathered in the longest pass ever completed in the Fiesta Bowl, a 79-yarder that helped save the title. A perfect play to cinch a perfect season, capped by a 23-16 victory over Florida State.
"It feels so good," Price said. "I'm happy to make some plays for my team. It just feels good real good."
It was third-and-eight from the Tennessee 21 when Price went racing down the sidelines, outrunning cornerback Mario Edwards, and Tee Martin let fly.
At about the 25, Price caught the ball, held on tight and ran untouched into the end zone. The play, longest in Fiesta Bowl history, put Tennessee up 20-9 with 9:17 left.
"I just felt like my team needed a big play. We felt like we needed another score," Price said. "The coaches gave me a great opportunity, just called a straight `go' route. I beat the DB and I made sure they weren't going to catch me this time."
The Vols held on to win, and there's no doubt what play the tens of thousands of orange-clad Tennessee fans in the record crowd of 80,470 would remember most.
"Peerless Price has made more happen at wide receiver than any receiver we've had at Tennessee, and we've had some good ones," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
Florida State's Peter Warrick was the wide receiver to watch going into the game. Price was the one to watch during the game.
"He was taking it real personal the more we talked about it," Temmessee wide receiver Jeremaine Copeland said. "You know everybody's giving Peter Warrick more props [compliments] than they give Peerless Price. But to me, I'd pick him over Peter Warrick any day of the season."
For Price, the speedster from Dayton, Ohio, there could be no more dramatic way to make up for his mistake.
Early in the fourth quarter, Volunteers' punter David Leaverton had pinned the Seminoles on their own 1. Tennessee's defense held, as it did most of the long, penalty-filled night.
Florida State punted and the Volunteers had first down on the Seminoles' 35. Leading 14-9, a touchdown would go a long way toward clinching the victory.
On first down, Martin went for it all. Price sliced between two defenders just across the goal line and the ball was delivered right on target. Inexplicably, the Vols' leading receiver, with 61 catches going into the game, couldn't hang on.
The ball bounced off Price's chest into the hands of Dexter Jackson, who had a miserable first half when he was called for roughing the kicker on a field goal try and a late hit. Jackson returned the ball to the Florida State 26.
The Seminoles moved to midfield, but once again, their offense stalled. Tennessee took over, and Price made the biggest play of his career.
The senior finished with four catches for 199 yards. In the only big Tennessee play of the first half, he caught a 76-yarder from Martin to set up the Vols' first touchdown.
"I told Peerless I'd miss him next year," said Martin, a junior.
Only one player had more yards receiving in a Fiesta Bowl. Darnell McDonald of Kansas State had 206 yards receiving in the Wildcats' victory over Syracuse a year ago.
The longest pass play in the Fiesta Bowl had been McDonald's 77-yard catch from Michael Bishop a year ago -- until Martin heaved the ball toward the desert stars and Price watched it fall right into his hands.
The 76-yarder and 79-yarder were the two longest pass plays against Florida State's vaunted defense all season.
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