Late fumble preserves Vols' 27-24 win over South Carolina
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee coach Butch Jones wasn't complaining even after his team allowed a 17-point lead to turn into a narrow escape.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin recovered a fumble deep in Tennessee territory with 32 seconds remaining Saturday to preserve the Volunteers' 27-24 triumph over South Carolina. Aaron Medley's 27-yard field goal with 9:14 left broke a 24-all tie after Tennessee squandered a 17-0 advantage to continue a season-long pattern.
''I'm never going to apologize for winning,'' Jones said. ''This is a hard-fought game. We're playing a good football team. I give South Carolina all the credit in the world. ... They're going to have success. We're still building. I'm proud of our players. I'm proud of our program. We need to start being positive around here.''
South Carolina (3-6, 1-6 SEC) was seeking a game-tying or game-winning score when Jerell Adams caught a pass inside the Tennessee 35 and started spinning away from defenders as he headed into the red zone. Adams was trying to gain extra yardage when Malik Foreman knocked the ball out of his left arm.
Reeves-Maybin recovered at the Tennessee 13 to seal the victory.
''We've just got that confidence now,'' Reeves-Maybin said. ''Whoever has to make the play is going to find a way to get it done and not let anybody in the end zone. In crunch time like that, we're not playing on our heels at all. Everyone's looking to make big plays.''
The frantic finish was fitting for an annual series whose last four games have been decided by a total of 11 points.
South Carolina won 38-35 in 2012 after Tennessee fumbled in the red zone with just over a minute left. Tennessee won 23-21 in 2013 on a field goal as time expired and won 45-42 in overtime last year.
''The guy just came up behind him and punched it out,'' South Carolina quarterback Perry Orth said. ''It's just one of those things. It's just very, very unfortunate. I feel bad because Jerell's such a good guy, and he played his tail off tonight.''
The start of the game certainly didn't foreshadow a close contest.
Tennessee (5-4, 3-3) grabbed a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter as Alvin Kamara had a 4-yard touchdown run and Joshua Dobbs threw a 37-yard scoring strike to Von Pearson on the Vols' first two possessions. Pearson finished with eight catches for 121 yards.
The Vols led 17-0 before South Carolina's Elliott Fry kicked a 43-yard field goal with 1:03 left in the first half.
Orth rallied the Gamecocks by throwing touchdown passes on three consecutive third-quarter possessions as the Gamecocks capitalized on some creative play calling.
South Carolina cut Tennessee's lead to 17-10 on a 10-yard completion from Orth to Jonathan Walton, a linebacker who hadn't played offense all season before lining up in the backfield Saturday.
On South Carolina's next series, Orth threw a touchdown pass to Adams when the Gamecocks went for the touchdown rather than settling for a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 7.
South Carolina benefited from facing a Tennessee secondary that played most of the game without safety Brian Randolph, who was ejected due to a targeting penalty in the first quarter. Tennessee also played the first half without cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who was penalized for targeting in the second half of a victory over Kentucky last week.
The Gamecocks' comeback continued a troubling trend for Tennessee, which led in each of its four losses this season and was ahead by at least 13 points in three of those defeats.
This time, Tennessee bounced back after blowing a big lead.
''Good teams find ways to win when they don't particularly play their best football,'' Jones said. ''We didn't play our best football tonight.'
AP College Football: collegefootball.ap.org