- Sep 7, 2004
Tennessee vs The Maxims vs Arkansas (1998)
DATE: 14 November 1998
PLACE: Neyland Stadium
FINAL SCORE: Tennessee 28 Arkansas 24
a/n: As promised, I'm once again revisiting great Vol games from the past. I will be doing one each month through August. Myself and my family will be on vacation in May so there will be a skip for that month. Our history subject matter for this series will be sons of Tennessee who earned our nation's highest award for valor.
Just the week before, undefeated and #2-ranked Tennessee had disposed of the UAB Blazers in decisive fashion 37-13. Your Humble Scribe was in the stands after the game waiting for the crowd to thin a bit when Bobby Denton came over the PA with his patented “Scores of Interest” lead in. After two or three scores nobody paid any attention to, he announced that Ohio State, then ranked #1, had just lost to Michigan State.
The crowd went bonkers.
When the new polls came out, according to the AP, the Tennessee Volunteers would sit atop the college football world. ESPN, typically, slotted Tennessee at #2 and kept them there until after the Fiesta Bowl.
The next Saturday brought a stern test, though, as Houston Nutt brought his undefeated and #10-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks into Neyland Stadium. The Pigs were tough, they were hot, and they were lucky. It promised to be a barn-burner and the game did not disappoint.
As the Vols came through the “T” John Ward voiced the thoughts of Vol fans across the Fruited Plain, “Everything, EVERYTHING, is riding on this football game.”
Temps were in the 50s but it had been and would continue to rain off and on. The grass was wet but Shields-Watkins Field was otherwise in good shape.
Tennessee got the ball to start the game. Both teams fielded outstanding defenses and it showed. Punts were exchanged until Tennessee's Travis Stevens coughed up the ball on the UT 24. Arkansas's Madre Hill pounded the ball to the UT 14 when the Pig's quarterback, Clint Stoerner, found Emanuel Smith in the end zone.
The Vols answered with a drive of their own that ended on the Hog 33. Jeff Hall attempted a 49- yard field goal but hooked it and it caromed off the left upright.
Arkansas then was aided by a UT penalty and a 44-yard pass completion and were on the UT 9. Stoerner fired a pass toward Anthony Lucas in the end zone but Deon Grant stepped in front of it for the interception. But the Vols ended up punting.
End of 1st Quarter
Score: Tennessee 0 Arkansas 7
On the first play of the second quarter Stoener found a streaking Lucas for a 61-yard TD.
On Tennessee's first play of the second quarter, Tee Martin's pass was intercepted.
Fortunately, the Pigs did nothing and punts were exchanged.
The Vols finally got another drive going that stalled on the Hog 24 whereupon Jeff Hall lined up a 41-yarder and nailed it.
Arkansas then drove down the field where Stoerner found Lucas again for an 8-yard TD.
For once, the Vols answered and their drive was capped by a 36-yard TD pass from Martin to Peerless Price.
End of 2nd Quarter
Score: Tennessee 10 Arkansas 21
The Vol defense held the Hogs to a four-and-out on their first possession of the half. They punted to Jeremain Copeland who was then separated from the ball and Arky was in business on the Tennessee 34. The Pigs drove down to the Vol 16 but stalled and they had to settle for a 33-yard field goal.
After another Pig four-and-out, the Vol offense essentially became an episode of the Travis Henry show. Nicknamed “The Cheese,” Vol offensive coordinator David Cutcliff put Tennessee's National Championship hopes on his shoulders and he responded. The Vols rode #20 down to the Pig 4 whence Tee Martin scampered in for a 4-yard TD capping a 69-yard drive.
Tennessee's defense choked the Swine once again and the Vols drove to the Pig 4 but had to settle for a Hall field goal.
End of 3rd Quarter
Score: Tennessee 20 Arkansas 24
The action didn't let up.
The 4th canto opened with an exchange of punts. On their second possession, though the Sty Dwellers made it to the UT 20 and lined up for a 37-yarder that would put them up 7. However, Deon Grant came streaking in and blocked it. Big Al Wilson scooped the ball up and set off on a 50-yard rumble that ended on the Hog 36 where he was knocked out of bounds. Unfortunately Wilson pulled a groin muscle and sat out the rest of the game.
Tennessee's offense went backwards and the Vols punted, pinning the Swine on their own 1.
There are points when, as a Vol Fan, you realize you are seeing Legend. I was there, up in Section JJ, overlooking the South end zone.
And I saw.
And behold ...
The Pigs stalled on their own 41 and lined up to punt. The Arky center mortared the ball waaaayyy over the kicker's head. As the Vols smelled blood in the water and swarmed toward the bouncing ball, the punter realized the danger and kicked it through the back of the end zone.
A mighty cheer rose from the Orange-clad faithful.
After the free kick the Vol offense did precisely nothing, failing on a 4th down play at the 50. The fans stilled. It was dispirited bunch of Tennessee Vols who trudged off the field.
The clock showed 2:56 left in the game.
All Arkansas had to do was get a first down ...
One Vol, though, refused to give up. Al Wilson recalled years later, “I thought it was just Billy Ratliff being Billy Ratliff.” Ratliff got in Tee Martin's face and bluntly told him and the offense, “Don't take your helmets off. We're getting the ball back.”
Ratliff was a Vol possessed. He stuffed the Hogs' first play for a two-yard loss.
Then, on the very next play …
HeadHog Nutt said later, “It was a run pass option and it looked like somebody stepped on his (Stoerner's) foot.”
This writer thinks it was The Genrul hisownself putting in an appearance. Stoerner stumbled and instead of just falling down and taking the loss, he tried to catch himself with his right hand – the one with the ball in it.
The ball squirted away and Tennessee's #40 fell on it …
As with any decent legend, though, the Good Guys were still in peril.
The Vols took over with 1:43 left and the South end zone was 43 yards away. Tennessee needed a touchdown. A field goal would put them ahead but only by a point, leaving the Vols open to a couple of passes by Stoerner into field goal range and a two-point Hog win.
David Cutcliff had a decision to make. Throw it or run it? The Vols' last six pass attempts had resulted in five incompletions and a sack. Meanwhile Tennessee's power running game had success all night.
As John Ward later recalled, “Give the ball to number 20 (points) – go that way.”
And go he did.
On the next three plays The Cheese rushed for 15, another15, and 11 yards - down to the Arkansas two. Henry was stuffed for a one-yard gain on 1st and goal.
Travis Henry had already rushed for 196 yards in the game. It was yard number 197, though ...
Time seemed to slow down, the assembled multitude stood as one as on 2nd down Martin handed the ball to #20 who went up and over a heap of squirming Hogs and Vols and …
… John Ward will tell you, “GIVE! HIM! SIX!!! That's all.”
Tennessee 28 Arkansas 24
Over the course of the 2021 season, three of these little essays covered the Civil War exploits of Union General George Thomas. We followed him from the Battle of Mill Springs, to the epic stand by his Corps on Snodgrass Hill during the Battle of Chickamauga, and finally his triumph at Nashville where his troops crushed the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
After the Confederate defeat at Nashville on 15-16 December 1864, most historians and most histories turn from the Western Theater to events in the East from the Siege at Petersburg to the eventual surrender of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in April, 1865. They dismiss the events surrounding the Army of Tennessee only noting its seemingly mysterious reappearance in the Carolinas in time for Joe Johnston to surrender to Sherman at Durham Station, North Carolina, on 26 April 1865.
Even your Humble Correspondent fell into that trap. I wrote, “It was a rout. The proud, veteran and hard fighting Army of Tennessee shattered leaving behind over 6000 killed wounded and captured. Much of the army simply melted away. To all intents and purposes, the Civil War west of the Appalachians was over. … Hood was relieved of command and replaced with – you guessed it – Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston rallied the 15,000 or so stragglers in Alabama and Mississippi and then headed east to keep an appointment with General Sherman in Durham, North Carolina.”
Far from being a rag-tag bunch of survivors, the Army of Tennessee in the Carolinas was a formidable force of over 90,000 men. The story of how they survived and flourished began, though, with the desperate retreat to the Tennessee River down what is now US Highway 30 over two weeks from 17 December 1864 until the last rearguard crossed the river on 29 December.
Confederate commander Gen. John Bell Hood hoped to regroup and make a stand on the far side of the Duck River at Columbia. However, it obvious the army was in no shape to do so. Hood then decided to retreat on down and cross the Tennessee River near Florence, Alabama. He detailed Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest to form a rear guard with his cavalry corps reinforced by a brigade of infantry.
It is not a stretch to say that Bedford Forrest was the ONLY competent Confederate general left west of the Appalachians. His actions over the next two weeks could be used as a textbook on retrograde operations.
The weather was horrible and greatly hindered the Union pursuit. In fact Gen. Thomas had been forced to order a suspension of operations at Spring Hill due to a snow storm and frigid temperatures. Forrest finally crossed the Duck on 20 December, having burned the last bridge over the now flooding river. Due to delays getting supplies and bridging materials up, the Union cavalry, under Gen. James Wilson finally crossed on 23 December.
There were sharp engagements every day on that road. All of them were at small, out of the way places that quickly faded into the mists of time.
Tiny little places where men died.
One such fight occurred along a small stream called Richland Creek, about ten miles north of Pulaski. The First Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division bumped into Chalmer's Division of Forrest's Corps there. The men of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment under Lt. Col. Calvin Dyer, were heavily engaged but pushing the Rebels back when a Rebel Major jumped up with a standard bearer and directed him to begin waving the Divisional flag to rally his troops.
Corporal Harrison Collins from Hawkins County in Company A saw what was happening and led his men in a charge that killed the Major and captured the flag.
On 24 February 1865, Cpl. Collins received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. He was the first man from the State of Tennessee to be so honored.
Collins remained with the regiment for the rest of the war.
Harrison Collins moved to Isabella, MO after the war and passed away there on Christmas Day, 1890. He is buried in the National Cemetery in Springfield, MO.
Lt. George Gillespie of Kingston was awarded the MoH for actions with Sheridan's Cavalry Corps on 25 May 1864, but the Medal was not authorized until 1890.
So, how did the Vols do against The Maxims?
1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
It seemed at the time and still does that the errant deep snap was the critical miscue. From that moment on, Arkansas was on it's back foot and never could regain its mojo. However, it's also hard to argue against The Fumble.
2. Play for and make the breaks. When one comes your way … SCORE!
I think everyone in Neyland Stadium, including Houston Nutt and the Pig staff, expected the Vols to rely on Tee Martin's arm to get the victory. Using Travis Henry caught them (and we fans!) completely by surprise.
“Give the ball to #20 – go that way.”
3. If at first the game – or the breaks – go against you, don't let up … PUT ON MORE STEAM!
“Don't take your hats off. We're getting the ball back.”
HeadVol Fulmer noted that the offense did just that, “They all stood on the sideline with their helmets on, ready to go back in.”
They just KNEW.
4. Protect our kickers, our quarterback, our lead and our ballgame.
Somehow, they just KNEW.
5. Ball! Oskie! Cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle … THIS IS THE WINNING EDGE.
Tennessee's defense set the tone and kept the Vols in the game. Deon Grant had a monster night with five solo tackles, an interception and the blocked field goal.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.
David Leaverton had only a so-so day and the usually automatic Jeff Hall was two-for-three. Then there was Copeland's fumble. However the coverage units did their bit.
7. Carry the fight to Arkansas and keep it there for sixty minutes,
When The Cheese landed in the end zone, there were 00:28 left in the game.
As the crowd filed out (nobody had left early!) Bobby Denton announced the debut of a new song by Kenny Chesney. Fans looked at each other and shrugged until the first stanza of “Touchdown Tennessee,” a tribute to John Ward, came over the speakers. Strong men then stood with tears in their eyes as the the last line, “So, thank you, John.” echoed around the stadium.
Stanley F. Horn, Tennessee's War: 1861-1865
Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel (editors), Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 4: The Way to Appomattox
Mark Zimmerman, Mud, Blood, and Cold Steel: The Retreat From Nashville, December, 1864
Union encampment on the road south from Nashville, 1864 (National Archives)