Today's matchup of the Best Plays of 2009 pits Montario Hardesty against himself, just for kicks. It's his game-winner at Kentucky (an important play to win a game, but really, all he did was run through a huge hole) against his 47-yard screen pass versus Virginia Tech (a weaving, athletic play, but really, just a non-touchdown in a loss). Voting remains open through 9:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, 6/17/10.
At stake: A quarter-of-a-century win streak over an SEC annual rival. Kentucky had had their chances over the past 24 years but hadn't been able to get over the hump and actually notch a victory against the Vols since 1984. Orwell may have gotten it wrong or just been early, or he may have actually just been thinking about the Tennessee-Kentucky football rivalry. Rebellion against Big Brother has rendered them Big Blue Unpersons.
In-game context: Aaaaanyway . . . the Wildcats were up to their usual tricks, making a show of it, threatening to actually win and stuff. Kentucky got out to a seven point lead, we tied, they went back up by seven, we tied, they did it again, and we did it again. Tennessee finally took a 24-21 lead at the end of the third quarter, but the Wildcats tied it at the end of the fourth to send it to overtime.
Unfortunately for the unpersons, they missed a field goal attempt with the first possession in OT, and Montario Hardesty and the offensive line did this:
Impact: 25 straight years. Two bits. A quarter of a century. Unperson.
At stake: The difference between 8-5 and 7-6. An improvement over 2008 of three games instead of two. A positive ending to a turn-around season and a positive positioning for the next. Or so we thought.
In-game context: Tennessee was having much more trouble against Virginia Tech than anticipated. In their first three drives, the Vols gained 11, 3, and -3 yards. Meanwhile, the Hokies had put two touchdowns on the board for a 14-0 lead. UT finally put a drive together with 6:43 left in the second quarter and appeared to have seized a bit of momentum when Janzen Jackson intercepted Tyrod Taylor with 1:11 left in the half.
On the very next play, Jonathan Crompton found Montario Hardesty on a well-executed screen pass:
Impact: Two plays later, Crompton found Denarius Moore for a TD. The game was tied, the half was almost over, and the Vols would go into the locker room with momentum and a reason to believe the season would end well. Or so we thought. Instead, the Hokies took their nine seconds, threw a 63-yard bomb, and hit a 21-yard field goal to wrest the momentum from the Vols and take it into the locker room at halftime where they fed it and petted it and cuddled it throughout the entire second half. Tennessee didn't score again, and the Hokies won 37-14.