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September 9, 2006
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -Erik Ainge threw for 333 yards, and No. 11 Tennessee held off scrappy Air Force when Xavier Mitchell stuffed a late 2-point conversion try by the Falcons to give the Volunteers a 31-30 victory Saturday.
The Falcons (0-1) gave Tennessee's defense fits all night with its triple option offense and tried to mount a comeback in the final minutes.
Air Force cut it to 31-24 with 2:41 left and then recovered the onside kick at its own 42. The Falcons scored on Ryan Williams' 1-yard run to cut the lead to a point and coach Fisher DeBerry decided to go for the lead instead of the tying kick. Chad Hall took the pitch from quarterback Shaun Carney and was stopped for a loss by Mitchell.
The relieved orange-glad fans in Neyland Stadium cheered for a win that was very different from a week ago, when Tennessee (2-0) dominated California in nearly every phase. Next week Florida comes Rocky Top in an SEC East showdown.
Play was stopped for several minutes after Tennessee's Inky Johnson was carted off the field and taken away in an ambulance. He apparently hit helmets with Air Force's Justin Handley after a catch.
Ainge had another stellar performance, but it almost wasn't enough.
The Vols lost starting tailback Arian Foster late in the second quarter with a left ankle injury. Montario Hardesty relieved him and scored from 3 yards out to cap a 99-yard drive to open the second half. Hardesty finished with 72 yards on 19 carries.
Air Force led 10-3 early, but Meachem's touchdown catch in the second quarter tied it at 10. The Vols went ahead for good on Ainge's TD pass to Swain in a hurry-up offense with 28 seconds to go in the first half.
The triple option is rarely seen in college football these days, and it fooled the Vols often.
Williams led the Falcons in rushing with 98 yards on 16 carries. His 4-yard run started Air Force's comeback with 2:41 remaining and made it 31-24.
Carney had 52 yards rushing with a 1-yard touchdown that was challenged by Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer but upheld by the officials.
Hall rushed 11 times for 81 yards, and scored from 5 yards out in the first quarter.
For more coverage of the Tennessee Volunteers, check out VolQuest.com.