Nov. 6, 2004
By ELIZABETH A. DAVIS
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Brandon Hoyte’s tackle might have changed the course of the season for Notre Dame. It altered ninth-ranked Tennessee’s outlook Saturday night.
Tennessee lost the second member of its heralded freshman quarterback duo and the Fighting Irish capitalized with an interception return for a touchdown, then held on to win 17-13.
Erik Ainge separated his right shoulder on the final play of the first half when he recovered his own fumble and was tackled by Hoyte for a 14-yard loss.
Ainge didn’t return, and the game was not the same afterward.
“There is no better time for us to step up than right now. We couldn’t afford to wait another week.”Coach Tyrone Willingham
“You don’t just hit people to tackle them. You tackle them so they won’t get back up. I say that respectfully,” Hoyte said.
“We had a great opportunity. We’ve lost a lot of close games and we needed to prove what type of team we are. I think that happened tonight.”
Ainge’s injury came a week after Brent Schaeffer broke his collarbone.
Junior Rick Clausen, the younger brother of former Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen, replaced Ainge in the second half and almost immediately made a big mistake.
Clausen was being sacked by Derek Landri when he let the ball go. Notre Dame’s Mike Goolsby caught it and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead. The Irish (6-3) never trailed again.
“It feels good to be aggressive on defense rather than just sitting back,” Goolsby said. “This is just one of those huge games like Nebraska or (Texas) A&M from my freshman year.”
The loss doesn’t affect the Southeastern Conference standings for the Vols (7-2), who now have a week off to regroup. Wins over also-rans Vanderbilt and Kentucky later this month would send Tennessee to the SEC championship as the East division winner.
“Losing Erik was a real disappointment,” Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. “I thought Rick came in and competed. Whether it’s Rick, Brent or Erik, people around him have to play well.”
Fulmer said he didn’t know when Ainge would return. Team trainers said he was out indefinitely.
Linebacker Mike Goolsby returns an interception for a touchdown during the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame padded its lead in the fourth quarter with D.J. Fitzpatrick’s 39-yard field goal. Then all the Irish had to do was stop Tennessee’s hapless offense. The Vols punted on their next possession, but got the ball back for a final chance with 2:12 remaining.
Tennessee had a bad snap that Clausen had to recover 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The Vols’ last gasp came on fourth-and-18 when Clausen’s pass was incomplete, and the Notre Dame bench erupted in celebration.
“Every win against a top 10 team is huge,” Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said. “There is no better time for us to step up than right now. We couldn’t afford to wait another week.”
Brady Quinn was 12-of-23 for 118 yards and a touchdown for Notre Dame, which only had 216 yards of total offense.
Notre Dame took its first lead, 7-3, in the first quarter on Quinn’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano, ending a drive that featured Darius Walker’s 32-yard run.
Tennessee got back in it in the second quarter when Ainge dumped off the ball to Cedric Houston as he was being pressured. Houston dodged defenders and beat Notre Dame’s Dwight Ellick to the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown.
Clausen finished 10-of-18 for 120 yards, but the Vols were held to 58 yards rushing.