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Trying and Failing to Rank the Georgia Finish

For the second week in a row, comparisons ultimately fail: the 2016 Vols are doing things we’ve never seen before.

Tennessee v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

I think we’re all quite confident in the Josh Dobbs/Jauan Jennings hail mary being the first of its kind for the Vols. Casey Clausen and James Banks did the deed at Florida in 2003, but that was at the end of the first half.

But beyond a hail mary, have the Vols ever won a non-overtime game with a touchdown on the final play of regulation?

Here’s an early attempt to put Saturday into context. I was born in 1981 and my memories go back to around 1989.

Overtime Wins

Once things go to overtime the odds of sudden victory reach 100%, with do-or-die plays aplenty and going both ways if the team with the ball first kicks a field goal.

Of Tennessee’s 18 overtime games (in which the Vols are an impressive 12-6), only six have ended with instant victory via a Tennessee touchdown:

  • Casey Clausen to Jason Witten on the first play of Tennessee’s sixth overtime possession against Arkansas in 2002
  • Clausen to James Banks against South Carolina in 2003
  • Gerald Riggs at the goal line to end The Rally at Death Valley in 2005
  • Montario Hardesty getting loose for a 20-yard touchdown at Kentucky in 2009
  • Matt Simms to Denarius Moore in double overtime to beat UAB in 2010
  • Eric Gordon’s pick six to beat Vanderbilt (after much deliberation) in 2011

The other six overtime wins have featured some memorable non-touchdown plays to end it: Florida’s missed field goal in 1998, a fourth down stop at Alabama in the fifth overtime in 2003, chasing down Andre Woodson on a two point conversion in the fourth overtime at Kentucky to win the SEC East in 2007. But even in overtime, the walk-off touchdown is rare.

Touchdowns in the Final Minute

If yesterday’s theatrics were in fact Tennessee’s first regulation walk-off touchdown, there also aren’t many nipping at its heels. Of the “don’t screw up the kickoff/hail mary and we’ve got this” variety since 1990, in chronological order:

  • Tony Thompson over the pile against Virginia in the January 1, 1991 Sugar Bowl with 31 seconds left.
  • “They need to go to Henry,” in the 1998 Arkansas game with 28 seconds left.
  • Travis Henry again over the pile at South Carolina in 2000 with 26 seconds left.
  • Gerald Riggs from 12 yards out in the 2004 Kentucky game with 38 seconds left

That’s three one yard runs and a surprise 12-yard run with enough time to run other plays. Memorable, especially the first two, but what happened before Henry’s run is more famous than the score itself in the ‘98 Arkansas game, and the others wouldn’t make the top of any lists.

Late Field Goals & Defensive Stops

Aside from the overtime moments listed above, there have been a number of memorable finishes on plays other than Tennessee touchdowns in the last 25-30 years:

  • The Miracle at South Bend in 1991, ending with Jeremy Lincoln’s backside sending a Notre Dame kick wide.
  • Freshman Jeff Hall breaks a 27-27 tie with Georgia in 1995.
  • After Jay Graham’s long run for the lead, stopping Alabama on fourth down in the red zone in 1996.
  • Senior Jeff Hall walks it off with three at Syracuse in 1998.
  • Tennessee pressure forcing an incomplete pass from Rex Grossman on a two-point conversion to tie at the end of the 2001 Florida game.
  • James Wilhoit from goat to hero at the end of the 2004 Florida game.
  • Georgia throwing into the end zone unsuccessfully on the last play of the 2004 game.
  • Stopping Air Force’s two-point conversion to win in 2006.
  • Michael Palardy walks it off against South Carolina in 2013.
  • Brian Randolph knocking it down at the end of last year’s Georgia game.

There are a ton of great memories in here. But the touchdown on the last play of regulation to win? Not sure that’s ever happened before. Plus the hail mary. Plus the opponent and the magnitude of the win for the SEC East. Plus what happened the play before for Georgia. Plus what happened the week before against Florida. Plus plus plus.

Like the Florida game before it, yesterday’s battle is going to land on our all-time lists. How high it goes will depend on how high Team 120 can finish. But the hail mary finish itself? Not only have we never seen anything like it, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything close. And like scoring 38 unanswered on Florida after being down 21-0 and 11 years? Comparisons just ultimately fail.

These can be anxious days and the pressure is mounting. The next thing I’m writing after this is about how this team has to quit screwing around in the first quarter. Tennessee can play better.

But my goodness, we should enjoy these days. Every minute of them. Not only has it been a long time since the Vols have been undefeated, in the driver’s seat in the East, and staring down a Top 10 October showdown. Not only have the Vols beaten Florida for the first time since 2004 and won at Georgia for the first time since 2006.

But the ways these things are happening have never happened before.

Go Vols.