Vols spirited fight falls short against Ole Miss

Published 12:24 am Tuesday, October 19, 2021

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KNOXVILLE – An energetic crowd of 102,455 came to see if Tennessee could deal Ole Miss and head coach Lane Kiffin a defeat and almost got their wish as the Vols came up eight yards short of beating the 11th-ranked Rebels in a game that took nearly five hours to complete.

The Rebels boarded the bus with a 31-26 victory but not before having to deal with a Tennessee team that was up for the challenge and being pelleted with flying water bottles, beer cans, a bottle of mustard, and golf balls with 54 seconds remaining in the game due to a poorly called spot of the football on a Tennessee fourth down – just one of three questionable calls against the Vols in the contest.

A muffed punt by red-shirt senior Velus Jones, Jr. set the Rebs up in great field position at the Tennessee 11-yard line. On second and goal from the one-yard line, running back Snoop Conner blasted into the end zone for a 7-0 Ole Miss lead after Caden Costa took care of the point-after attempt.

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After the Vols struggled to move the football on two consecutive three and outs, the Tennessee defense recorded the first points of the contest when Omari Thomas sacked Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the end zone for a safety and the scoreboard read 7-2 with 4:35 left in the opening quarter of play.

The Vols offense finally made a push after the safety when quarterback Hendon Hooker connected with wide receiver Cedric Tillman on a sixteen-yard scoring pass with 3:51 to play in the first quarter. Chase McGrath’s PAT was down the middle of the upright for a 9-7 Tennessee lead.

On the ensuing Ole Miss possession, the Rebels were held out of the endzone by a fired-up Vol defensive unit that forced a 30-yard field goal that Costa had no problem in connecting on to give his Rebel team a 10-9 lead as the quarter came to an end with the visiting team holding a 10-9 edge.

The second quarter opened with Tennessee punting the football back to Ole Miss on a fourth and 27 from the Tennessee eight-yard line after a sack on Vol quarterback Hooker on third down.

Ole Miss wasted little time in cashing in for head coach Lane Kiffin as a Corral pass covering 33 yards to Dannis Jackson for a Rebel score. Costa converted on the kick and the scoreboard read 17-9 in favor of the visitors.

After Tennessee had another short drive stall out, Ole Miss went back to work and built the lead to 24-9 as Conner scored his second rushing touchdown of the contest taking the ball in from the one-yard line. Costa remained perfect and Ole Miss looked prime to run away with the game leading 24-9.

The Vols’ McGrath trimmed the lead to 24-12 on a 39-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.

Tennessee came out of the locker room following the halftime break and went to work to cut into the Ole Miss lead.

The big play on the drive was a Jabari Small 26-yard gain to the Mississippi 28-yard line and a Hooker to Jones pass completion of 29 yards to the Ole Miss one-yard line. Small finished off the drive with a one-yard plunge and McGrath came through with the PAT to make it a 24-19 Rebel lead.

Feeling the Vols closing in, the Rebels managed to drive once again deep in Tennessee territory as Corral connected with Dontario Drummond for a 16-yard scoring toss to make it a 31-19  Ole Miss with 2:04 left in the third quarter of play.

Tennessee cut further into the lead with 13:41 to play when Hooker scrambled into the checkerboard end zone for a five-yard scoring run to cut the deficit to five after McGrath’s PAT, 31-26.

The score remained that way until the Vols were given a short measurement on a Jacob Warren 23-yard reception to the Ole Miss 41-yard line. The mark of the ball set the Vol’s student section into a wild frenzy as scores of water bottles, beer cans, pizza boxes, and even a bottle of mustard and golf balls began raining down on the field forcing the Tennessee cheerleaders, band, and media to take shelter to avoid from being hit by the flying objects.

After the fans were calmed long enough to finish the game, Tennessee used its three timeouts to force an Ole Miss punt that Jones returned to the Mississippi 47-yard line. Hooker added another 14 yards to the Ole Miss 33 where he was injured on the run.

Red-shirt junior Joe Milton came in and fired 12 yards to Walker Merrill to the Rebel 21-yard line. Milton then spiked the ball and missed Tillman by mere inches in the back of the end zone with three seconds to play.

With everyone knowing that Milton would need to throw the football, the Vol quarterback scrambled out of the backfield as he couldn’t find an open receiver and was pushed out at the eight-yard line to end the contest.

The Vols finished with 467 total yards of offense to Ole Miss 510 yards. Corral carried the football 30 times for 195 yards to lead the Rebels ground game and completed 21-38 passes for 231 yards and two scores.

Hooker rushed for 108 yards on 23 rushes to lead Tennessee. Small finished with 21 carries for 96 yards. Through the air, Hooker was 17-of-26 for 233 yards and one score.

Defensively, Jeremy Banks led his team with 15 tackles while Aaron Beasley added 10.

Tennessee travels to Alabama for another high-profile showdown with the Crimson Tide.