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College Football Week 8

Price Volunteers and Pays Big Return

Southeastern: Receiver runs back a kickoff for touchdown to lead No. 3 team to a 35-18 victory over Alabama.

October 25, 1998|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Peerless Price, leader in the clubhouse in college football's name game, had beaten on Pat Washington's ears for two seasons. Price, a receiver, had caught touchdown passes for Tennessee. He had run for a touchdown on a reverse.

He hadn't returned a kickoff since his sophomore season, and Peerless couldn't be peerless unless he could take one to the house.

Washington, the Volunteers' kickoff-return team coach, also works with receivers, which means he could run, but couldn't hide from Price's daily practice pitch.

Wednesday he gave in.

Saturday, Price returned a third-quarter kickoff 100 yards in third-ranked Tennessee's 35-18 victory over Alabama at Neyland Stadium.

"I knew it was put up or shut up, and I didn't want to shut up," said Price, to whom shutting up is never really an option.

But most of the 107,289 in attendance were stilled, and not because of the suddenness with which Price restored order only 20 seconds after Alabama's Shaun Alexander had scored on a 44-yard run to cut the Tennessee lead to 14-11.

It was because yellow linen decorated the 21-yard line.

"I said into the headset we'll be on the 10- or 11-yard line and we've got to move it out," said David Cutcliffe, the Volunteer offensive coordinator who, like everybody else figured there was a penalty on Tennessee's return team.

The penalty's always on the return team.

"I've never seen it called any other way," Cutcliffe said.

Quarterback Tee Martin was already walking toward the field.

"I figured we'd start back there and play offense," he said.

Price figured his destiny had been denied after lighting up the place with a sprint up the middle, then a tightrope of the right sideline, directly in front of the Alabama bench.

And then referee Rom Gilbert signaled blocking below the waist on the kicking team.

"Neither team can hit down there," Cutcliffe said. "But I've never seen it called."

Said Price: "I saw it on the sidelines. Everybody pointed at the flag. My heart stopped. Most always it's on the return team. Then they called it on them. Thank God."

Price was Peerless again, and it was left for Tennessee to ride the 22-carry, 113-yard, two-touchdown rushing effort of Travis Henry to a 6-0 start for the first time since 1969.

Not that the Volunteers are peerless, because when the first Bowl Championship Series poll comes out Monday, they will probably be third, behind UCLA and Ohio State, in either order.

"The BCS, I don't understand it," Price said. "It's like it's French and I took Spanish."

What he understands in any language is that "it just means that all four years here, we've beaten Alabama," Price said. "When I got here, they'd lost like 10 years in a row and that's all you heard. Now I won't have to hear it."

For the record, it's 0-8-1 over nine years, and everybody was counting.

Of perhaps more important, "it keeps us unbeaten and on the road to our goal, to something special."

Which is?

"The SEC championship," Price said.

Now Tennessee is in a position to cheer for Alabama to help its BCS ranking.

"I know they talk about strength of schedule and all of that," Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer said of the BCS formula, which includes several polls, team records and opponents' records.

"But it's hard for me to pull for any other team," Fulmer said. "It's just my nature. I'd like for the conference to do well, but. . . ."

He smiled and shrugged, and you get the idea that if the Crimson Tide (4-3 overall, 2-3 in the SEC) lost to Southern Mississippi next Saturday, he would lose nary a wink of sleep, as long as Tennessee (4-0 in the SEC) defeats South Carolina.

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