JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl got a great crowd — and a great finish — for its 75th anniversary game.
Tennessee roared back in the final five minutes and stunned Indiana 23-22 on Thursday night in front of its best crowd since 2011.
The Volunteers’ win in front of 61,789 fans, most of them wearing Tennessee colors, denied the Hoosiers their ninth win of the season, a milestone victory for the program.
Indiana (8-5) was trying to join teams in 1945 and 1967 as the only ones in school history to reach that mark.
Tennessee (8-5) didn’t let the Hoosiers get there, scoring the final 14 points just 30 seconds apart in the fourth quarters, surviving an Indiana field goal try with 2 minutes, 12 seconds and then the Hoosiers’ final drive that ended on downs.
“But our kids kind of kept on fighting,” said Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt. “Our coaches done a really nice job, and our fan base — all the orange was there when the clock struck zero that was there when the game started, and we can’t say enough about our fan support and what they mean to everybody associated with this organization.”
The crowd was the best for the Gator Bowl since 68,325 saw Mississippi State beat Michigan on Jan. 1, 2011. It helped put a stop to a five-year attendance slide.
Last year’s game drew 38,206 fans.
It wasn’t a pretty game for three and a half quarters but provided all of the action over the final minutes.
The Volunteers led 6-3 at halftime but didn’t get into the end zone until a Quavaris Couch 1-yard touchdown run with 4 minutes, 21 seconds to play to get within 22-16.
Tennessee was just getting warmed up.
It followed by recovering an onside kick and scored three plays later on a 16-yard run by Eric Gray for a 23-22 edge, its first lead since early in the third quarter.
Indiana missed a 52-yard field goal by Logan Justus on its ensuing drive. Its final attempt came after the Volunteers punted it away with 55 seconds to go and backed the Hoosiers up at their own 19.
Peyton Ramsey drove Indiana to the Tennessee 45 before the Volunteers stopped the Hoosiers on downs.
“Obviously very, very disappointing to have a fourth-quarter lead and let it slip away. But not going to sit here and point fingers and blame,” said Hoosiers coach Tom Allen. “You just at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility for us to find a way to win the game. We didn’t do that, but it doesn’t take away from what this team has accomplished this season and all the things they’ve done that haven’t been done in a long, long time here at Indiana.”
It was a wild finish for Tennessee after a ragged three quarters.
It settled for three Brent Cimiglia field goals before its fourth-quarter burst and watched Indiana flip the game in a hurry in the third quarter.
Ramsey’s 1-yard scoring run on the opening drive of the second half put the Hoosiers in front. Jamar Johnson had a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown on the following drive to put the Hoosiers up 16-6 just 63 seconds later.
Eric Gray rushed for a team-best 86 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries for Tennessee. Jarrett Guarantano was 18 of 31 for 221 yards and a pair of interceptions for the Volunteers. Ramsey was 20 of 34 for 227 yards and an interception.