On the podcast earlier this week, Will wondered if Tennessee, after twenty-four years, had finally run out of ways to break Kentucky's heart. The guy with the carrot on the TV broadcast wasn't so pessimistic, using the improbable tailgating prop to demonstrate how we were going to dangle the promise of reward out to the Wildcats just before taking it away from them just like we always do.
For much of the game, I wondered if Will's worry was well-founded. Initially, when Jonathan Crompton threw a pick six on Tennessee's first possession to give Kentucky an early seven point lead, I thought it odd that Crompton's throwing the other team a touchdown pass didn't immediately resurrect a bunch of long dead feelings of futility. It just seemed like a simple mistake that we'd be able to overcome. Especially when Montario Hardesty carved up the Kentucky defense and tied the game by capping off a three-play drive.
But then Randall Cobb started carving up our defense, and despite Hardesty again tying the game, a creeping dread set in. Would we be playing catch up the entire game due to that early mistake? And when Kentucky took a 21-14 lead into the locker room, I was just hoping the team would leave the carrot in the locker room and return to the field with a big sharp stick. Which is exactly what they did.
Tennessee scored ten points in the third quarter to go up 24-21 and all the while seemed like they were going on a post-Thanksgiving binge, eating nearly all of the second half clock themselves. Really, it looked like we had actually run out of ways to break Kentucky's hearts and settled on just doing it the old boring way: by running them to death and gradually putting distance between them and their goal until time mercifully expired.
But then the drama returned. After Tennessee forced Kentucky into five futile second half drives ending with a forced fumble and four punts, Luke Stocker (use the Force, Luke!) coughed up the ball on our own 37 yard line and gave the 'Cats one last chance, down by three, and already in field goal range.
Re-enter a re-energized Randall Cobb. For 13. For 9. For 2. And for 3, which put Kentucky within ten yards of the end zone on second and seven, where they could win just by continuing to give the ball to Cobb in the Wildcat formation. Yet they went back to their traditional offense, and Derrick Locke was stopped for two yards, bringing up third and five, and Morgan Newton then tried to make the right corner on the next play, but Dennis Rogan fought off a block and made a fantastic open field tackle on Newton, getting him on the ground five yards from the first down. Instead of putting the game away with mere seconds remaining, Lones Seiber kicked the field goal and sent the game to overtime.
Tennessee won the toss and then used that stick they brought out for halftime to force Kentucky to go first. Kentucky began overtime essentially already in range of making a 42-yard field goal. But after a Wildcat incompletion, Eric Berry fought off his own block and made a terrific play to drop Locke for a loss of six yards. After one other incompletion, Seiber came on to try a 49-yard field goal instead of the 42-yarder he'd have tried had the offense simply gone nowhere, and he missed. No points in overtime for you.
So all Tennessee had to do to win the game is hold on to the ball, not go backwards, and kick a 42-yard field goal. But just for dramatic effect, Tennessee was called for a holding penalty on the first play, and they immediately found themselves ten yards in the hole. A one yard gain by Hardesty on first and twenty didn't help matters much, but Crompton's 14-yard completion to Gerald Jones did, and it set the Vols up at the Kentucky 20 on third and five. All they really needed was to square up the angle and send their new placekicker onto the field for a 37-yard attempt. Worst case, they would miss and take their chances in a second overtime.
So Crompton handed off the ball off to Hardesty, and -- OH MY LOOK AT THAT HOLE!
It was a thing of beauty, really. My dad and I yelled it at the same time, just seconds before the TV announcer echoed. LOOK AT THAT HOLE! It was absolutely huge, and Hardesty darted into the end zone untouched.
And yes, the Vols not only won, they in fact found yet one more way to break the hearts of the Kentucky Wildcats.