It’s a feeling Coach Derek Dooley and his Tennessee Volunteers team have sadly felt before. The feeling of agony after celebrating a presumed hard-earned victory, only to have it devastatingly snatched away after a cruel tease.
The parallels between Tennessee’s 30-27 double overtime loss to North Carolina in tonight’s Music City Bowl and an earlier season defeat at the hands of LSU in Baton Rouge are almost too eerie.
Tonight, Dooley’s squad yet again seemed to be the benefactor of horrible clock management by their opponent, as the Tar Heel staff, for some strange reason, decided to call a draw play with 16 seconds left and no timeouts.
This, of course, brings back memories of the Les Miles special we saw back in early October, when LSU was bailed out of a monumental meltdown in the final seconds of a 16-14 win because Tennessee was called for a personnel penalty.
In this case, though, the Volunteers did nothing wrong—well, that is unless you count the personal foul penalties and blown coverages that allowed North Carolina to somehow get into field goal position after starting their final drive on the 20-yard line with only 31 seconds remaining.
The crazy part about the end of this game wasn’t so much the fact that North Carolina got into field goal position on two basic pass plays; it’s the fact that they almost blew it.
With 16 seconds on the clock and no more timeouts, the North Carolina brain trust got the bright idea to call up a draw, conceivably hoping they could inch a a few yards closer to make their kicker feel a little more comfortable.
Now it should be noted that, while it may not be ideal, a draw isn’t the worst possible playcall for the situation, even though it’s cutting things pretty close. The play itself took about five seconds, as expected, which left quarterback T.J. Yates and the offense a good ten seconds of wiggle-room to get up to the line and clock the ball.
Someone must have pressed a secret panic button inside of LP Field because, as soon as the play ended, all hell broke loose. With time running down and seconds slipping away, chaos commenced. Offensive players looked confused trying to line up, members of the field goal team decided to take the initiative to hop out onto the field before Yates even spiked the ball and, before you knew it, the clock read zero.
In a Tar Heel blue blur, somehow we had just watched Butch Davis and company make one of the most egregious clock management gaffes in bowl history.
The largely pro-Tennessee crowd exploded with excitement, as did the Tennessee bench as they ran onto the field to celebrate while most of the North Carolina players, including Yates, just stood around like dumbfounded zombies, unable to believe what had just transpired.
Then came the head official, who we had gotten to know all too well in the waning moments of the game, to tell us that the play was under review.
Mr. Gorbachev, put that second back on the clock!
It was determined that Yates, in all of the massive confusion, had indeed managed to spike the ball with a second remaining. North Carolina would be hit with a five-yard substitution penalty, but they were also given a chance at redemption.
Yet again, it had happened to the Volunteers. Their false sense of accomplishment proved to be illegitimate.
After kicker Casey Barth composed himself enough to knock a game-tying 40-yard field goal through the uprights, you just had the feeling that the wind was lost from Tennessee’s sails.
After trading touchdowns in the first overtime, a costly Tyler Bray interception all but sealed the deal.
Barth put another clutch kick right down the pipe, North Carolina exhaled and Tennessee was left to pick up the pieces of another bitter loss, which they were fooled into believing was their hard-fought win.
It won’t be an easy night in Nashville for the boys in orange. Those savory seconds tasting victory once again turned out to be bittersweet in the end.