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Oct. 28, 2006

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Erik Ainge threw two touchdown passes to Bret Smith and the eighth-ranked Vols ended a year of ugly memories from last year’s loss to South Carolina with a 31-24 victory.

Spurrier has largely had his way with Tennessee (7-1, 3-1) through the years. The coach won at Neyland Stadium with Duke in 1988, then took eight of 12 games from the Vols as Gators coach from 1990-2001. And when Rocky Top supporters gleefully planned for revenge after the ball coach took over at South Carolina, he led the Gamecocks to their first win in Knoxville last fall.

That last defeat was particularly embarrassing to the Big Orange. The Vols had retired the jersey of star quarterback Peyton Manning, then outplayed South Carolina throughout, falling on Josh Brown’s improbable 49-yard field goal – a victory even Spurrier described as a “miracle.”

It looked like Spurrier’s hex was in effect again at Williams-Brice Stadium after South Carolina (5-3, 3-3) overcame a two-touchdown deficit to lead 17-14 after three quarters.

But Ainge found Smith on a 12-yard TD pass to put the Vols (7-1, 3-1) ahead for good with 13:10 left. After forcing South Carolina to punt on its next possession, Jonathan Hefney had a 65-yard punt return to South Carolina’s 5 and Arian Foster had a touchdown run on the next play.

The Gamecocks closed to 31-24 on Syvelle Newton’s 1-yard TD run with 2:24 to go. Tennessee was forced to punt – Ainge was out with a bad ankle on the series – and South Carolina had one final chance. However, Newton’s desperation heave was intercepted by Demetrice Morley as time ran out.

Spurrier’s always loved picking at Tennessee. He once quipped, “You can’t spell Citrus without U-T,” and this week couldn’t keep himself from again having a little fun at the Vols expense.

He was explaining how since the winners are usually the ones who tell such jokes and how Tennessee didn’t win too many of its matchups with Spurrier’s Gators, “maybe they weren’t telling too many up” in Knoxville.

Now, it’s the Vols and coach Phillip Fulmer who can laugh it up – at least for this year. The victory pushed Fulmer one ahead of the ball coach in SEC wins after the two came in tied at 134 each.

The Vols road to the SEC championship game doesn’t get much easier the next two weeks. They take on No. 14 LSU and No. 13 Arkansas before closing the SEC against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Even if Tennessee wins out, it would need help from an SEC team to knock off Florida – perhaps Spurrier’s Gamecocks who go to Gainesville on Nov. 11? – to represent the Eastern Division.

Tennessee looked like it would make quick work of the Gamecocks.

Marvin Mitchell picked off Newton’s pass on the second play of the game and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown.

Then after the Vols ended a long drive by South Carolina with Jonathan Wade’s interception in the end zone, Ainge took them 80 yards for a touchdown of their own.

Ainge found Smith with a 5-yard scoring pass that caromed off South Carolina defenders Emanuel Cook and Stoney Woodson before Smith grabbed it for the TD and a 14-0 lead.

South Carolina rallied on Ryan Succop’s 50-yard field goal – his third of at least 49 yards or longer this year – and an 18-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Mike West.