‘Just an electric situation’

 

By Tom Mattingly

Before the 1972 season, night games were not part of the Tennessee football experience. There were no lights at Shields-Watkins Field/Neyland Stadium, and the Vols played sparingly under the lights on the road or in bowl games.

There were night games at Florida and against Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl in 1971, at Memphis State in 1969, at Rice and at Auburn in 1968, Oklahoma in the 1968 Orange Bowl, UCLA in 1967, Mississippi State in 1964 in Memphis, and the debut game under the lights at LSU in 1944.

That all changed when Tennessee and Penn State kicked it off under the lights September 16, 1972, in a rematch of the 1971 contest, won by Tennessee, 31-11. Tennessee was ranked No. 7, Penn State No. 6. Kickoff was 7:30 p.m. The game was the first in an expanded Neyland Stadium.

The game was not on television and there was no ESPN, so precious few others than the 71,647 present for the history-making encounter remember exactly what it was like.

The Vols got the capacity crowd into the game in a big way with interceptions by Eddie Brown and Art Reynolds, fumble recoveries by David Allen and Carl Johnson, and touchdowns by Haskel Stanback and Steve Chancey to build a 21-0 halftime lead. Holloway dazzled the crowd by gracefully eluding Penn State defenders, and Vol defenders were keeping the Penn State offense on its side of the 50.

Penn State was nobody’s pushover, however, and the Nittany Lions roared back in the second half. Quarterback John Hufnagel tossed a 69-yard pass to Jimmy Scott for State’s first score. After a Vol fumble led to another score, it was 21-14, and the battle was on.

On their first drive of the fourth quarter, Tennessee, headed to the south end, moved 80 yards in 13 plays to another score that widened the margin to 28-14. Holloway showed senior-like poise leading the drive, extricating himself from a number of tight situations.

With the ball on the State 33, Holloway got loose up the middle on one of his trademark “now-you-see-him, now you-don’t-runs” that had the crowd on its feet wondering what he could do for an encore. It was first down at the 19. Two plays later, he found wide receiver Stan Trott for a first down that barely moved the chains.

On second-and-goal from the nine and under enormous duress, Holloway rolled to his right and made a late pitch to Stanback, who grabbed the ball with his left hand and somehow made it to the two. He scored on the next play, and the Vols had some breathing room at 28-14.

The Nittany Lions had an immediate reply. Hufnagel moved the Nittany Lions 79 yards in nine plays, cutting the margin to 28-21.

When Penn State grabbed a fumble at the Vol 34 moments later, it appeared the Nittany Lions might be poised to win or tie the game. After Hufnagel was sacked for a loss of six yards, the Vols stopped three passes and took over on downs.

Penn State had one last chance, as Hufnagel made the requisite plays even with Vol defenders clawing at his jersey. The drive was stopped at the Vol 26, and that was the game.

“This was a big game for us, but losing it doesn’t mean the end of our season,” Paterno told Glenn Sheely, sports editor of the Daily Collegian, after the game. “Our kids came back from what could have been a disaster game. They showed their poise.” The Nittany Lions did reel off 10 consecutive victories on their way to a Sugar Bowl matchup with Oklahoma.

For his part, Bill Battle praised his colleague across the field.

“I was never a great Joe Paterno fan,” Battle said, “but I became one after the two games we played. After the game, he asked me if he could speak to our team.

“After taking care of his team and the media, he came over and shook hands with our players. His classiest line was, ‘I told the people in State College I was not leaving Knoxville without being in the winning dressing room, but l didn’t envision it being this way.’”

“It was just an electric situation,” Battle said of the first encounter under the lights in Knoxville. “That’s the only way I can describe it. The players just looked faster and quicker.” It was an impressive debut for football under the lights at Neyland Stadium.

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