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Late turnovers cost Vols as LSU wins SEC

ATLANTA - Les Miles and LSU can now focus on their future together, starting with a trip to the Superdome.

After being assured by Miles he would stay as their coach, backup quarterback Ryan Perrilloux and the fifth-ranked Tigers shifted their attention to No. 14 Tennessee. The result was a 21-14 victory Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship game - and still a slight chance to play for the national title.

Jonathan Zenon scored on an 18-yard interception return with 9:54 left to put LSU (11-2) ahead, then Darry Beckwith picked off another pass by Erik Ainge deep in Tigers territory to seal it.

Perrilloux was the MVP of the game, though Ainge certainly played an equally significant role with his ill-timed tosses. The win sent LSU back home, with a spot in the Sugar Bowl at worst.

At best, the Tigers hoped for losses by No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia later in the day, plus help in the BCS rankings this weekend to play in college football's championship game, also to be held in New Orleans at the Superdome.

With speculation swirling that he would soon leave for Michigan, Miles did everything he could to put aside the distractions. He met with his players earlier in the day and told them he wasn't going anywhere.

After winning their first SEC title since 2003, the Tigers hoped to head for bigger and better things. Miles hugged senior Jacob Hester, who barreled for 120 yards with helmet-hammering runs.

'I'm just really happy for our seniors, our leadership,' Miles said. 'We had to put it together and we did that.'

Miles had to be proud of his defense, too, for the way it stopped the Vols at the end.

Still no word, though, on whether defensive coordinator Bo Pelini will soon leave to become head coach at Nebraska as has been rumored.

Ainge played like a poised senior until his final few throws, when he tossed the ball to the wrong team. Zenon stepped in front of a receiver making a square-in and had an easy romp to the end zone.

'I shouldn't have thrown it,' Ainge said.

Tennessee (9-4) had its five-game win streak stopped. Now the Volunteers might wind up in the Outback Bowl.

'We had our opportunities,' coach Phillip Fulmer said.

The Vols sported all-orange uniforms for the first time since 1999 and led 7-6 at halftime. The game shaded toward the Tigers' side in the second half, with Perrilloux starring in place of injured Matt Flynn.

Perrilloux did it all for LSU, a week after sitting out a 50-48 triple-overtime loss to Arkansas that cost LSU a No. 1 ranking for the second time this season.

Throwing his first passes in three weeks, he completed 20 of 30 for 243 yards. He opened LSU's option attack, ran for a 2-point conversion after Zenon's touchdown and threw a crunching block that drew gasps from fans on both sides when the replay was shown on the video board.

No wonder the Tigers have stuck by the talented sophomore whose career has been beset by off-field issues.

For a while, it looked as if Tennessee safety Eric Berry might be the star of the game. He made a pair of plays in the third quarter that helped Tennessee take a 14-13 lead and preserve it.

Berry recovered a fumble by NCAA sprint star Trindon Holliday that set up Ainge's 6-yard TD pass to Josh Briscoe for a 14-13 edge, then intercepted a poor pass by Perrilloux.

The Vols could've been ahead by more, but Daniel Lincoln missed field goal tries from 30 and 51 yards.

Down at halftime, LSU came out of the locker room with a new look. The Tigers received the kickoff, opened up their playbook and quickly took the lead.

Holliday took off on his first three runs of the game, Early Doucet tried a reverse and Perrilloux threw a 48-yard dart to Brandon LaFell. Perrilloux finished off the lightning strike by slinging a pass through two defenders to Demetrius Byrd for a 27-yard touchdown and 13-7 lead.

At the start, Tennessee also broke out a bit of trickery that's become fashionable in the SEC.

On their first possession, the Vols slipped wide receiver Gerald Jones in as quarterback on a third-and-4. He dashed for 20 yards on just his fourth rushing attempt this season.

That led to Ainge's 11-yard touchdown pass to Chip Brown. Somehow, Tennessee made its lead stand up until halftime, leading despite being outgained 271 yards to 93.

Colt David kicked a pair of 30-yard field goals the first two times LSU touched the ball. He missed another 30-yard try just before the half.