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 KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee gave up a lot of points in their three losses this season, but the Volunteers never gave up hope they'd play for a Southeastern Conference championship.
The 14th-ranked Vols (9-3, 6-2) completed a five-game winning streak with a dramatic 52-50 win over Kentucky in four overtimes on Saturday to win the SEC East and earn a spot in the conference title game against LSU in Atlanta on Saturday.
``Our team has some shortcomings in some areas, but heart and fight aren't one of them,'' Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
Fulmer said he knew his team would get back on track after being pounded 59-20 by Florida in September and crushed 41-17 at Alabama last month. The Vols' three losses were by a combined 77-point margin.
Fulmer said he didn't doubt his team because of their effort and consistency during practices.
``It was just a matter of how soon we could get it back on course,'' he said. ``Those guys, I think, listen very well, and we got it back on track pretty quickly. We haven't played perfect, but we're playing much more solid football.''
The Vols came up with big wins when many fans doubted them. They beat South Carolina in overtime after giving up a 21-point lead, they limited top SEC rusher Darren McFadden in a convincing win over Arkansas and they overcame a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Vanderbilt.
And then there was Kentucky.
The Wildcats (7-5, 3-5) were looking to break their 22-season losing streak to the Vols. Tennessee blew a 17-point lead, had to block a potential game-winning field goal attempt in the second OT and finally won it when Antonio Reynolds stuffed Andre Woodson on a 2-point conversion play.
Vols quarterback Erik Ainge said the underdog status has helped motivated the team throughout the season.
``No one has really given us a shot all season,'' he said. ``The backbone of this team has been heart, and coach Fulmer preaches that to us in the locker room. We play with heart, and we take our wins however we can get them.''
The Vols certainly will be underdogs when they face No. 5 LSU (10-2, 6-2) on Saturday.
The Tigers beat the Vols 28-24 last season, knocking Tennessee from contention for the SEC East title. Ainge was sidelined after an ankle injury during the game, and the Vols defense had trouble stopping JaMarcus Russell, who led the Tigers on a game-winning drive in the last seconds.
LSU also ended Tennessee's dream of a chance to play Miami in the 2001 national championship game when they upset the Vols 31-20 in the SEC title game that December.
``That was a tough loss,'' Fulmer said. ``But every year stands on its own. We're not even close to that 2001 team now. Every year, every game stands on its own.''
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