Ninth-ranked Tennessee has been projected as a possible player in the national championship picture.Those lofty expectations nearly took a big, deflating hit in the season opener.Upstart Appalachian State put up a huge fight and led most of the contest before the Volunteers recovered to post a 20-13 overtime victory on Thursday before 100,074 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.Junior tailback Jalen Hurd rushed for 110 yards and recovered a fumble in the end zone for the winning points in overtime, as Tennessee staved off the upset attempt.”I am not going to apologize for a win, guys,” Volunteers coach Butch Jones said. “I think we’ve learned around here wins are hard to come by.”Hurd was alert on the third-and-goal play from the Appalachian State 2-yard line as senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs scrambled right and darted toward the end zone. He dove toward the goal line and was nailed by Mountaineers senior linebacker Kennan Gilchrist and fumbled the ball just shy of the end zone.It caromed into the end zone and a wild scramble ensued. Hurd darted in and dove from the side and was able to corral the ball for the touchdown.Seeing Hurd with control of the football was a welcome sight to Dobbs.”I saw Jalen down with the ball,” Dobbs said. “And I said, ‘All right, We’re good. We just scored it.’ A touchdown is a touchdown.”Appalachian State had a chance to force a second overtime but junior quarterback Taylor Lamb’s fourth-and-5 throw for junior receiver Shadeon Meadors fell incomplete in the end zone.”You can point out opportunities where we should have won the football game,” Lamb said. “It’s going to sting for a while.”Lamb was 15-of-23 passing for 108 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Mountaineers. Senior running back Marcus Cox rushed for 115 yards on 24 carries and also had a 33-yard scoring reception.Dobbs was 16 of 29 for 192 yards. He passed for one score and was intercepted once.The Volunteers rallied from a 10-point deficit to tie the score at 13-13 when Dobbs tossed a 67-yard scoring pass to junior receiver Josh Malone with 10:30 remaining. Malone sped past Mountaineers freshman cornerback Clifton Duck to make the catch and then was able to shed Duck’s tackle attempt before darting the final 20 yards for the score.After Tennessee’s next possession stalled, Appalachian State senior punt returner Jaquil Capel broke free for 45 yards down the left sideline with Volunteers junior punter Trevor Daniel knocking him out of bounds at the Tennessee 28-yard line.The Mountaineers were unable to get a first down and freshman kicker Michael Rubino was wide right on a 42-yard field-goal attempt with 5:24 remaining. Rubino also missed an extra point following Appalachian State’s second touchdown.The missed opportunities helped negate the chance to notch a huge opening-week upset.”I am just really proud of our guys,” Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield said. “They came out here and fought. We knew they would. … We have been very fortunate and blessed in the history of our school to win a lot of close games at the end, so we have a lot of confidence in how we finish. We just didn’t get it finished tonight.”NOTES: Tennessee senior LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin was ejected for targeting late in the first quarter when he delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Mountaineers senior punt returner Jaquil Capel… Thursday was the nine-year anniversary of when then FCS-Appalachian State pulled off a shocking 34-32 road upset of No. 5 Michigan. … Tennessee’s No. 9 ranking is its highest in the preseason poll since being No. 3 to start 2005. … Mountaineers senior RB Marcus Cox ranks fourth in school history with 4,203 rushing yards. The career leader is Kevin Richardson (4,804 from 2004-07). … The Volunteers ended last season on a six-game winning streak. …Tennessee’s next game is against Virginia Tech on Sept. 10 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn.
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