It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.
Jalen Hurd recovered a fumble in the end zone during the first overtime period to complete a 10-point comeback for Tennessee as the Volunteers took a 20-13 victory over Appalachian State on Thursday night inside Neyland Stadium.
The Vols trailed 13-6 entering the fourth quarter, but Joshua Dobbs hit Josh Malone on a 67-yard pass down the left sideline. Malone had two catches for 81 yards on the 6 play, 92-yard drive which tied the game at 13 with 10:30 remaining in fourth.
“At the end of the day we found a way to win the football game,” head coach Butch Jones said. “We had some players step up and make some critical plays. Just about anything and everything went wrong. We found a way to win, got it to overtime and had a clutch play to Josh Malone.”
Hurd finished the game with 110 rushing yards on 28 attempts, while Dobbs went 16-of-29 passing for the Vols for 192 yards. Marcus Cox led the way for the Mountaineers with 115 yards on 24 carries.
Tennessee held a 319-292 advantage in total offensive yards over Appalachian.
The Vols (1-0) fell behind after Cameron Sutton muffed a punt on the first drive. Appalachian State recovered the ball and promptly marched 36 yards, capped by a five-yard rushing touchdown by Taylor Lamb.
The Mountaineers pushed their advantage to 13-3 with 8:53 remaining in the second quarter as Lamb floated a ball down the right sideline to Cox. Cox caught the 33-yard score on a wheel route out of the backfield.
That score held until halftime. Appalachian State (0-1) outrushed the Vols, 82-56, in the first half and held possession for 16:30 as it controlled the tempo.
The Vols’ momentum changed early in the second half as Sutton picked off a Lamb pass on the opening drive. Tennessee was able to turn the App State miscue into three points on Aaron Medley’s second field goal of the game, bringing the Vols to within 13-6 entering the fourth quarter.
The Vols went to overtime for the second-consecutive season opener, but Dobbs kept the opening drive of the extra session alive with a winding six-yard run on third-and-6. Three plays later, Dobbs dashed for the corner of the end zone, but lost the ball as he tried to extend over the goal line. Hurd recovered the ball in a scrum to put UT up 20-13.
In his first career start, Micah Abernathy broke up Lamb’s pass in the end zone on fourth-and-5 to secure the Tennessee’s seventh-straight win and eighth-straight victory in a season opener.
Tennessee now turns focus to the Battle at Bristol against Virginia Tech. That game is set for next Saturday at 8 p.m.