- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Travis Stephens finally found the light.
Tennessee's fifth-year senior tailback sat behind Jamal Lewis for two years and Travis Henry for two more. But yesterday against No. 2 Florida, with an SEC East division title on the line and the odds stacked against his Volunteers, Stephens stepped out of the shadows to author his career-defining performance. The stocky Stephens ripped around the Swamp like a souped-up hydrofoil, carrying No. 5 Tennessee to a shocking 34-32 upset of the heavily favored Gators.
The Vols now advance to next week's SEC title game in Atlanta and will have to wait for Monday's BCS standings to see where they stand in the Rose Bowl picture. Tennessee was sixth in the rankings last week, but the victory over Florida combined with the close contest in the Big 12 title game should vault the Vols to second or third.
"I waited so long for this moment, and I just want to sit here and wallow in it," said Stephens, who rushed for a career-high 216 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries (11.9 average). "Nobody but us thought we could win down here, but we just stomped on the doubting Thomases."
And on the mystique of Florida Field. Going into the game, Tennessee (10-1, 7-1) hadn't won at the Swamp in 30 years. And neither had virtually anyone else. In the 12-year Steve Spurrier era, the Gators had compiled a 68-4 record in Gainesville. Throw in the fact that maligned Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer entered the game with a 2-7 record against Spurrier's Gators, and no wonder the oddsmakers installed Tennessee as an 18-point underdog.
"Eighteen points. Eighteen points," Tennessee receiver Donte Stallworth was chanting during the Vols' victory celebration. "That really fired us up. Ain't nobody 18 points better than us maybe the St. Louis Rams. So Travis came out and put on a show, and we whupped them in their own house."
In fact, Stephens would not have been able to run wild on the Gators (9-2, 6-2) had Tennessee's lines not completely dominated the Florida fronts on both offense and defense.
Compare the staggering numbers: Tennessee gained 254 yards on the ground and allowed Florida no sacks and just five total hurries/hits on quarterback Casey Clausen. Florida's offensive line, on the other hand, was ravaged by Tennessee's constant pressure, yielding four sacks and allowing Heisman favorite-turned-afterthought Rex Grossman to absorb 31 shots.
"We just got pretty soundly beaten up front," said Spurrier. "We almost came back and stole it, just like last year. But we didn't deserve it. We couldn't protect Rex, and we let Stephens break a bunch of big ones right up the middle. Yep, Tennessee took it to the Gators tonight."
Thanks to two turnovers and a dropped touchdown pass by Tennessee tight end Jason Witten, the Vols trailed 20-14 at halftime. But in the second half, Witten and Clausen deferred to Stephens, and the 5-9, 190-pounder from Clarksville, Tenn., erupted.
On the Vols' first drive of the half, Stephens popped through the middle and ran over Florida safety Marquand Manuel en route to a 35-yard score that put the Vols ahead 21-20.
And then twice following Florida field goals later in the half, Stephens broke loose on similar scampers through the middle that set the Vols up for scores. His final blow, a 68-yard burst that gave Tennessee a first-and-goal at Florida's 9, led to a 1-yard touchdown dive by freshman Jabari Davis that put the Vols up 34-26 with 8:30 remaining.
Florida did manage one last salvo as Grossman moved the Gators 51 yards through the air and found wideout Carlos Perez for a 2-yard scoring toss with 1:10 remaining. But Florida's two-point conversion attempt failed when Grossman was forced to hurry a throw toward star wideout Jabar Gaffney in the back corner of the end zone and the ball sailed harmlessly long.
"That was justice, because we deserved to win the game last year and gave it away," said Stephens, who was named a first-team All-American by the College Football Writers of America last week a decision that gave many fans pause.
"I heard more than one person say, 'Travis who?'" said Stephens, who has rushed for 1,417 yards in his only season as a starter. "I guess they know who I am now."

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