Nov. 23, 2013
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - In his wildest dreams, Vanderbilt quarterback Patton Robinette couldn't have imagined a happier homecoming.
In its worst nightmares, Tennessee couldn't have pictured a more heartbreaking home finale.
Robinette, who grew up about 20 miles from Tennessee's campus in Maryville, Tenn., ran for a 5-yard touchdown with 16 seconds remaining Saturday as Vanderbilt rallied for a 14-10 victory over the Volunteers. Vanderbilt's winning drive was kept alive after Tennessee's fourth-and-inches stop of quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels in the final minute was overturned on replay, giving Vanderbilt a first down at the Tennessee 33.
"It was huge for us," Robinette said. "The fact I'm from Maryville just made it even sweeter."
Vanderbilt (7-4, 4-4 SEC) overcame four turnovers to beat Tennessee for the second straight year, giving the Commodores consecutive victories over their in-state rivals for the first time since winning six straight over the Volunteers from 1920-26. The Commodores' 16 wins over the last two years are their most over a two-season stretch since 1927-28.
"We started the game out on certain sides of the ball trying our hardest to lose the game," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "But the thing that I think is so special about this team is this team knows how to win. Over the last three years, we've created a culture that the players expect to win and they find ways to win. Sometimes it's not always pretty."
The Vols (4-7, 1-6) fell out of bowl contention and clinched their fourth straight losing season, something that hasn't happened at Tennessee since 1903-06.
"What do you think it is like?" Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "You have 28 seniors who have given everything to this football program. Yeah it is emotional because you put a lot of effort and work into it. I feel for these kids who have done everything we have asked of them. Unfortunately we came up short today."
Just a few minutes before Robinette's winning touchdown, Tennessee was celebrating an apparent victory.
Neyland Stadium's partisan crowd of 97,223 was in a frenzy after the Vols apparently stopped Carta-Samuels for no gain, but Vanderbilt maintained possession after replay official Ben Oldham determined Carta-Samuels had crossed the first-down marker.
"We went from the highest high to the lowest lows," Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel Hood said.
Jones declined to comment on the officiating after the game. Hood said he wasn't surprised the call was overturned because of all the breaks that have gone against the Vols over the last few years.
"I kind of expected it," Tennessee safety Brian Randolph said. "I kind of saw their quarterback get a little extra yardage."
It wasn't surprising to Vanderbilt, either.
"We thought that we had the first down," Franklin said. "After that, it's out of our hands. We'd like to get to the point where you don't put yourself in that position, that you clearly make it obvious that you got the first down without having to go to the review."
After a 25-yard completion from Carta-Samuels to Jordan Matthews gave Vanderbilt first-and-goal, Carta-Samuels was replaced by the more mobile Robinette on second-and-goal from the 5. Robinette faked a jump pass and ran around the right end for the touchdown.
Matthews caught 13 passes for 133 yards while setting an SEC record for career receptions. His 13-catch performance Saturday gave him 246 career receptions to break the mark previously held by Earl Bennett, who caught 236 passes for Vanderbilt from 2005-07. Matthews also owns the SEC record for career yards receiving (3,491).
"I always looked up to (Bennett)," Matthews said. "He was the best as far as I was concerned, and I knew if I ever wanted to be the best I'd had to go after the best. A couple of years ago when he hit me up, he told me, 'Hey, you can be great. Just stay focused. You can go catch what I did and you can go beat it.' "
Tennessee had capitalized on Vanderbilt's mistakes to take a 10-7 lead on Michael Palardy's 32-yard field goal early in the third quarter and appeared on the verge of putting the game away early in the fourth quarter, but a block in the back by receiver Alton "Pig" Howard nullified Joshua Dobbs' 13-yard touchdown run. The Vols ended up wasting the trip to the red zone when they faked a 39-yard field-goal attempt and Palardy's pass was picked off by Paris Head.
"There was a stiff crosswind coming," Jones said. "We thought through the week we had it, but I just had a gut feeling that it would take a touchdown there to win the football game."
The Commodores won despite making uncharacteristic errors and losing their entire starting secondary.
Vanderbilt entered the night having forced 16 turnovers in its last four games, but the Commodores were the ones giving the ball away Saturday. After losing just two fumbles in their first 10 games of the season, the Commodores fumbled it away three times against Tennessee, with two of them coming in the red zone. Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler was ejected for a targeting penalty in the third quarter, while defensive backs Andre Hal, Javon Marshall and Steven Clarke all got hurt.
The Commodores still held Tennessee to 53 yards passing and forced three interceptions.