By Kellan King
The Tennessee Volunteers hadn’t beat the hated Alabama Crimson Tide in 15 years, but when Chase McGrath’s knuckleball drifted through the uprights as the scoreboard read zeroes, the Vols had finally done it, and a sea of orange stormed onto the field at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee got off to a fast start, getting out to a 21-7 lead behind two Jalin Hyatt touchdown catches and a Jabari Small rushing touchdown. The Tide responded with a strong drive that sputtered out at the 3 yard line, and settled for a field goal. Alabama then got their first stop of the game, but a miscommunication led to a muffed punt at their own 40, giving Tennessee great field position. Three plays later the Vols punched in their fourth touchdown of the game, taking a 28-10 lead. Tennessee had all the momentum, and the rabid fans at Neyland Stadium started to taste the cigar smoke that comes with a victory over Alabama.
However, Alabama wasn’t going to roll over to the wave of momentum the Vols had. They had two good drives before the end of the half, getting 10 points back to go into halftime down 28-20. Tennessee started the second half with a turnover on downs after an overthrown touchdown pass, and the Tide responded with a quick touchdown drive and a two point conversion, tying the game up and leaving Neyland silent.
Tennessee responded quickly though, with a Jalin Hyatt 60 yard bomb from Hendon Hooker once again putting the Vols on top. Alabama got the ball back, and proceeded to have a 12 play, 75 yard touchdown drive to put the Tide up one, 35-34. After one drive by each team with no points, Tennessee got the ball back, and guess who they went to? Jalin Hyatt, 78 yard touchdown, and the Vols converted the two point conversion to retake a seven point lead. The Tide once again responded with a long, 10 play, 75 yard drive to tie the game at 42 with just under eight minutes to play.
Then disaster struck Neyland. A fumbled handoff at the 15 yard line was picked up by Dallas Turner, who scooped up the fumble and returned it 11 yards to put the Tide up seven, and leave the Tennessee faithful speechless. The Vols had a choice to make now: accept that tonight wasn’t their night, or keep fighting, and they Josh Heupels team chose the latter. They went on their longest drive of the game, 11 plays and 75 yards, but not without some drama. A pass interference call on a 4th and 5 gave the Vols a second chance, and they capitalized when Jalin Hyatt caught his 5th touchdown of the game to knot the game at 49.
The Vols left a little too much time for Bryce Young and the Tide though. In three minutes, Alabama marched down to the Tennessee 30, putting them in field goal range with 30 seconds to play. They then ran three straight pass play, all incompletions, setting up a Will Reichard 50 yarder to win the game. Reichard, a usually reliable kicker, pushed it wide right, and Neyland breathed a sight of relief.
With just 15 seconds left, most coaches would’ve taken a knee and gone to overtime, but not Josh Heupel. They ran two deep pass plays, and a Bru McCoy leaping grab at the 23 with two seconds left gave the Vols a last second field goal attempt to pull off the upset and finally beat Alabama. After an Alabama timeout, Chase McGrath stepped up, and booted an ugly kick that fluttered just over the uprights, giving the Vols a 52-49 lead as time expired. Immediately the Vols fans rushed the field, lit cigars, and started tearing down the goalposts for the first time since 1998.
It was a monumental win for Tennessee, who will now control their own destiny in their hunt for the College Football Playoff. Alabama isn’t done either, as they will still have the opportunity to win out and win the SEC.