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  • Bill Chastain

SOUTHERN FOOTBALL FRIDAYS: Volunteers’ 2001 Upset of the Gators

Most years Tennessee plays Florida on the third Saturday of September.

They’ll meet again this weekend — after not playing until October last year — and it’s pretty much been that way since 1992 other than what occurred in 2001 when their game got postponed until Dec. 1 because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

No. 4-ranked Tennessee traveled to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where they had not won since 1971 and were not expected to win that Saturday against No. 2 Florida. The 17 1/2 point spread said as much.

Tennessee jumped to a 14-point lead before Florida stormed back with 20 second quarter points. But the Volunteers gathered themselves for a dominating second half led by tailback Travis Stephens, who finished with 226 yards on the ground.

Florida managed to stage a late comeback and could have tied the game had they converted on a two-point conversion. But quarterback Rex Grossman’s pass to fell to the turf, thanks in large part to Buck Fitzgerald’s tight coverage of Florida receiver Jabar Gaffney.

CoachFulmer Coach Phillip Fulmer

Tennessee’s John Finlayson will forever be known as the guy who recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the game. “Rocky Top” ruled with a 34-32 win.

Afterwards Florida coach Steve Spurrier noted that Tennessee “deserved to win.”

“They ran it down our throats pretty good,” Spurrier said. “They were a little stronger around the line of scrimmage. It hurts. We knew what was on the line. They kicked our tails.”

The defeat marked Spurrier’s final game in Gainesville as the coach of the Gators. He moved to the NFL’s Washington Redskins the following season.

Meanwhile, the Vols advanced to the SEC Championship Game, where they lost to LSU 31-20. Coach Phillip Fulmer’s squad finished the season on a high note by defeating Michigan 45-17 in the Citrus Bowl.

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©2020 by Bill Chastain. Photo credits: Jill Doty Photography