Sarah Fuller has a football keepsake from her history-making moment. The ball from her second extra point likely is headed to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Being treated like just another athlete? That’s the best part of becoming the first woman to score in a power Five conference game, finally getting the chance to do more than squib a kickoff for Vanderbilt during a 42-17 loss to Tennessee.
“This whole time has been if I can do it, if I’m good enough to do it,” Fuller said. “It wasn’t if I was a girl or not. So that’s something I’ve really appreciated. At the end of the day, they treated me like an athlete and that’s the best I could ask for.”
She made history Nov. 28 as the first woman to play in a Power Five game, but was on the field only once, driving a low kickoff to open the second half as the Commodores got shut out at Missouri.
Vanderbilt interim coach Todd Fitch said special teams coordinator Devin Fitzsimmons had been charting kicks, especially close where the Commodores had struggled this season with few opportunities in games.
“So it was really, truly off statistics of the week’s preparation,” Fitch said. “It wasn’t about, you know, trying to do something special. It was truly who made the most of those kicks.”
With Vanderbilt (0-9) getting the chance to play after postponing last week’s game at Georgia, the Commodores played with just 49 scholarship players and finally gave the goalkeeper for the Southeastern Conference women’s soccer tournament champs an opportunity to put up points.
Fuller, listed second out of three available kickers on the depth chart, came out for the extra point that tied the game at 7 with 1:50 left in the first quarter.
The 6-foot-2 senior put the ball through the uprights and celebrated by pulling her fist in before slapping high-fives with teammates. She ran off the field with a big smile with her family in the stands all with their arms up in the air. Center judge Chris Garner handed her the ball on the sideline.
Fuller’s second chance came with 7:22 left in the fourth quarter at the other end of the field, and she kicked the ball through.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, who had a daughter earlier this year, said it was awesome.
“She’s obviously a winner,” Pruitt said about Fuller. “And she walked up there and kicked it right through. So I just think it says a whole lot about her and really, kind of her fortitude to be brave enough to go do this.”
Vanderbilt lost its 13th consecutive SEC game, its longest skid since dropping 23 straight between 2000 and 2003.
Tennessee (3-6) left with the much-needed victory with Harrison Bailey and J.T. Shrout throwing for two touchdowns apiece.
The Volunteers snapped their longest skid in 32 years after matching the six straight losses to start the 1988 season and avoided the longest skid in history at a program that started playing football in 1891. This also was their second straight win over Vanderbilt for the first time since 2014-15.
“It was pretty nice,” Pruitt said. “Good to see some smiles on some guys’ faces.”
Vanderbilt played with just 49 scholarship players, not counting Fuller, with only 18 available on defense after defensive lineman and sack leader Dayo Odeyingbo opted out earlier this week.
The Commodores led 10-7 early in the second after a 39-yard field goal from Pierson Cooke, a kick just outside Fuller’s range of 38 yards.
Tennessee took control scoring 21 points in the second quarter. Bryce Thompson started the scoring, snagging an interception with his left hand and running 18 yards for a TD. Shrout threw a 23-yard TD pass to Velus Jones Jr. and added a 28-yarder to Jalin Hyatt late for a 28-10 halftime lead.
Jones caught a 74-yarder from Bailey with 7:03 left for the final margin.
Tennessee: The Vols scored more by halftime than they had managed in any game since the second week of this SEC-only season in a win over Missouri, and they wound up with the most points this season. … Bailey started his second straight game and completed his first 13 passes, which included Tennessee’s first TD on a 6-yarder to Princeton Fant. But he also lost a fumble when sacked by Andre Mintze.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores’ best chance in their final home game this season was for the offense to stay on the field. Instead, they went three-and-out five times on their first eight drives, including one ending on the pick-6. Ken Seals did through two TD passes. … The thin defense came up with its second interception of the season when Gabe Jeudy-Lally picked off a Shrout pass in the fourth quarter.
Pruitt said Tennessee had 14 or 15 players in quarantine. Vanderbilt was much more shorthanded with Fitch saying three freshmen were on the offensive line at one point. Whether the Commodores can finish the season will depend on whether they have enough players at specific positions.
“But we wanted to play this game, know we’re not looking to duck out of it or anything,” Fitch said.
Tennessee hosts No. 5 Texas A&M in the regular season finale.
Vanderbilt is scheduled to visit No. 12 Georgia, a game postponed from Dec. 5 to Dec. 19.