WARNING: The following may be hazardous to the well-being of Big Orange fans and is not intended to cure any illnesses brought about by the Nightmare in Nashville. Readers with severe heart conditions should consult with their physicians before continuing as content may result in heart palpitations and other irregularities. Other side effects may include, but are not limited to, amnesia, insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety, blurred vision, depression, dizziness, nausea, nervousness, vomiting, diarrhea, and in at least one confirmed case, blatant denial.
Music City Bowl
For me, the last 24 hours has been a blur. Now I know how Jack Bauer felt.
I left my home after the alarm went off at 6:00 am Thursday morning, heading to Nashville, to see my beloved Tennessee Volunteers (6-7, 3-5 SEC) take on the North Carolina Tar Heels (8-5, 4-4 ACC) in the Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl.
I rock and rolled down I-81S to I-40W and arrived in Nashville around 11:30 CST and headed over to the stadium early in hopes of a Big Orange victory.
Finally, 5:40 CST arrived, and once again, it was football time in Tennessee!
In what must have seemed like a home game for Tennessee, and with a Music City Bowl record crowd of 69,143, most wearing Big Orange with just a hint of Carolina Blue, the Vols were set to receive the opening kick as the Tar Heels won the toss and deferred to the second half.
The Vol's offense was out of tune early as Tyler Bray and company sputtered, but it didn't take Carolina long, all of three offensive plays, and they were on the board. Running back Shaun Draughn scampered 58 yards for a Tar Heel touchdown and just like that UNC led 7-0.
The Vols got a break on a bizarre play on their next possession as Bray was intercepted by Carolina's Kendric Burney at the Tennessee 39-yard-line. Burney returned to the 26 but fumbled and Tennessee recovered. The strange play was only a sign of things to come much later in the evening.
Tennessee finally got on the scoreboard late in the quarter when Bray found a wide-open Gerald Jones from 29 yards out. Jones waltzed into the end zone, capping a nine-play, 75-yard drive to even the score.
The Tar Heels answered quickly in the second quarter as Casey Barth connected on a 28-yard field goal to give Carolina a 10-7 advantage. The scoring drive had been set up when Bray threw his second interception of the night to Carolina's Zach Brown as the ball bounced off of Luke Stocker's chest at the Carolina 47-yard line and Brown rambled all the way down to the Tennessee 10-yard line.
The Vol's took their first lead of the night when Bray found freshman Da'Rick (pronounced DAY-RICK) Rogers on a sensational throw-and-catch that covered 45 yards. Tennessee led with 1:30 to go in the half, 14-10.
Carolina put one last scoring drive together in the final minute of the half when quarterback T.J. Yates threw a touchdown strike to Erik Highsmith who had gotten past Prentiss Waggner to regain the lead for the Tar Heels. The two teams headed for the lockers with the Tar Heels holding a 17-14 advantage.
The score would remain unchanged throughout the third quarter as the two squads battled for field position. But the scoreless third quarter would set the stage for a fourth set and encore performances that would leave Nashville with something to sing about for years to come.
The game seemed destined to go scoreless in the second half until Bray threw his third touchdown pass of the night to fellow freshman Justin Hunter with 5:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. The scoring-strike capped an impressive 10-play, 63-yard drive that gave the Vol's a 20-17 lead. Daniel Lincoln came on to attempt the extra point, but hit it low into the Carolina line, as the kick failed.
Oh those seemingly automatic PAT's. This one would come back to haunt the Vols for years to come.
The Vols had a chance to put the game away after taking over on downs at the UNC 43-yard line with 1:36 to go, but were unable to get the necessary first down to run out the clock. Carolina Coach Butch Davis exhausted his timeouts as Rajon Neal got the call on three consecutive carries that resulted in minus-one net yard.
Tennessee Coach Derek Dooley used a timeout to save the Vols a five-yard delay-of-game penalty but in so doing left a soon-to-be precious, extra second on the game clock.
Regardless, Cunningham's punt found the end zone, resulting in a touch back, and Carolina took over on their own 20-yard-line with a mere 31 seconds left in regulation.
Yates wasted little time, firing a 28-yard strike to Todd Harrelson out to the Carolina 48-yard-line. Janzen Jackson was called for a questionable personal foul as he went air born with his helmet connecting into the receivers back. The penalty of 15 yards moved the ball inside Tennessee territory to the 37-yard line.
SEC official Rocky Goode who was in Charlotte watching the game with seven other officials as they prepared for the Meineke Car Care Bowl said this in an interview with WBIR.com, "Because it was a judgement call, I would tell you half the officials said they would call it, the other half said they wouldn't."
The game clock now read 25 seconds as the Tar Heels began the next play. The completed pass play to Dwight Jones was nullified as the referee signalled that the previous play was under review as the hit from Jackson had moved the ball loose as the receiver went to the ground.. After confirming the catch, the Big Ten officiating crew also added another important second to the game clock as determined by the review.
Yates took to the air once more, this time finding Dwight Jones for a 12 yard gain down to the Tennessee 25-yard-line. With no timeouts and the game clock evaporating, Yates hurried to the line and spiked the ball with 16 seconds illuminating the LP Field scoreboard.
On January 8, 2000, on this very field, the Tennessee Titans pulled off what became known as the Music City Miracle in a Wild Card Playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. The historic play came after the Bills had just taken the lead and the Titans were set to receive the kickoff. A series of miraculous throws and laterals enabled the Titans to score the winning touchdown that began with, you guessed it, 16 ticks left on the clock.
This time the Tennessee team would bear the brunt of the miracle.
For Carolina fans, Music City Miracle II will do just fine. For Tennessee fans, take your pick; Nashville Nightmare, Music City Mayhem, or whatever personal choice of words that you desire, they are all appropriate for what was about to take place.
With 16 seconds and no timeouts, Carolina Coach Butch Davis inexplicably called for a running play that Draughn carried down to the 18-yard-line. As mayhem ensued, Yates took the snap from center and spiked the ball to the turf at LP Field with 1 second hanging on the clock before expiring.
As Tennessee fans in the stands and across the state began to celebrate, Big Ten referee Dennis Lipski declared the game was over. Coaches Dooley and Davis met on the field for the ceremonial hand shake and the party was on in Music City, for a moment.
Once again, the officiating crew from the Big Ten were huddled together for yet another review to see if UNC still had a glimmer of hope.
The official's review revealed that UNC had too many men on the field, resulting in a five-yard penalty, but the ball was spiked with one second remaining on the clock.
Goode would not comment directly about the call but said this, "Here's what the rule says, when the offense substitutes a player, then the umpire is supposed to cover the ball and not let the ball be snapped until the defense has an opportunity to react to the substitution, so, by rule, technically, the ball probably should have never gotten snapped. So, is that an error, well, it could be."
Read between the lines if you will as Goode had the courtesy of not blatantly indicting his fellow laborers.
Casey Barth then became a Carolina folklore legend by connecting on a 39-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. To add insult to injury, Tennessee player Gerald Williams removed his helmet on the field and the Vols were assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty to be marked off in the overtime period.
After marking off the penalty assessed to Tennessee, Carolina began the overtime period from the twelve and one-half yard line. Four plays later, Yates scored on a quarterback sneak from the one to give UNC a 27-20 lead.
A determined Tennessee team would not go away quietly into the night. Tyler Bray connected with Luke Stocker on a brilliant pass to the back of the end zone to send the epic battle raging on into a second overtime.
The Vols had the ball first in the second overtime but Tyler Bray threw his third interception of the game to keep the game even as Carolina took over.
Carolina moved the ball down to the six-yard-line and brought on Barth to try and finish the Vols on third down. Barth's third field goal of the night, this one from 23 yards out proved to be the game-winner.
A stunned crowd and Tennessee team had just witnessed the unimaginable for the second time of the season.
Tennessee players left the field visibly shaken and utterly speechless while the Tar Heels and their contingent of fans celebrated wildly.
An extremely disappointed Coach Dooley expressed his appreciation of his teams effort and went on to say how proud he was of his players. Dooley added, "I thought I'd seen it all in Baton Rouge, but just when you think you've seen it all, you haven't....It was chaos again. I had a sick feeling when the thing hit zero, because I've been there, and I didn't celebrate this time."
Carolina Coach Butch Davis said, "I think ESPN Classic will probably be showing this 100 from now."
For most Tennessee fans, present and future, it'll probably still be talked about 100 years from now.
As for me, the five hour drive through Tennessee gave me plenty of time to think about what I had just witnessed as I arrived back home at 4:30 am. I had been gone for nearly a day, a day that myself and Tennessee fans will never forget.