Alternate ending

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley got to experience the thrill of victory AND the agony of defeat Saturday at Baton Rouge - all within a matter of seconds.

His Vols celebrated a 14-10 victory when a disorganized LSU squad, facing third-and-goal at the UT 1-yard line, botched a shotgun snap on what should have been the game's final play.

As fate would have it, however, that was not the game's final play. With both teams hastily shuttling players in and out of the lineup, Tennessee had 12 defenders on the field during the botched snap. That gave the Tigers a do-over. This time they gave the ball to tailback Stevan Ridley, who scored off left tackle to give LSU a 16-14 victory.

A former lawyer, Dooley argued that his defense was denied adequate time to react to LSU's offensive substitutions on Final Play Part 1. His appeal - though not without merit - was denied, and the Tigers' game-winning TD was allowed to stand.

Ultimately, the 16-point underdog Vols showed a lot of heart. They just had one heart too many on the field at the end.

Tennessee's coaches, players and fans will spend the next few days debating Final Play Parts 1 and 2 but the simple fact is this: The game never should've come down to the final play ... either of them.

The Vols had the game all but locked up with six minutes to go. Leading 14-10, they faced a third-and-two at LSU's 32-yard line. A first down there would've enabled them to virtually run out the clock. Tailback Tauren Poole was stopped for a one-yard gain on third down and stuffed for no gain on fourth down, however, giving the ball back to LSU with 5:41 remaining.

Even after the offense blew its chance to win the game, Tennessee's defense had several golden opportunities. With 2:00 left LSU converted a third-and-13 at the Vol 48-yard line when backup quarterback Jarrett Lee found Terrance Toliver for a 14-yard gain. With 1:22 left the two hooked up again, this time turning a fourth-and-14 at the Vol 38-yard line into a 20-yard gain and a first-and-10 at the Vol 18.

LSU coach Les Miles, known for being comically inept at clock management in clutch situations, lived up to his reputation. After a pass interference call against Vol cornerback Marsalis Teague and an incompletion gave the Tigers a second-and-goal at the 2-yard line with 32 seconds left, Miles tried his best to give the game away.

When a quarterback keeper by backup QB Jordan Jefferson picked up just one yard, Miles made a host of substitutions. As the final seconds ticked off the game clock, a low snap bounded past Jefferson, who fell on the ball at the LSU 17-yard line - apparently ending the game with Tennessee pulling the upset.

As Dooley was galloping onto the field to hug players and revel in the shocking victory, however, an official was picking up a flag in the back of the end zone. Replays confirmed that there were 12 Vols on the field when the botched snap occurred.

Dooley returned to the sidelines. LSU's offensive players and Tennessee's defensive players -- 11 each this time -- returned to the line of scrimmage. Ridley's one-yard plunge then sealed the Vols' doom.

Has there even been such a gut-wrenching finish in Vol history? Yes. In fact, this sort of thing seems to happen every 10 years.

The 1990 Alabama game saw third-ranked Tennessee's potential game-winning field-goal attempt blocked by the unranked Tide, with the ball rolling so far downfield that Bama was able to boot the game-winning field goal on the final play of a stunning 9-6 upset.

Ten years later, in the 2000 Florida game, Jabbar Gaffney's phantom catch in the final seconds gave the Gators a controversial 27-23 win.

Now, 10 years later, the football gods have given the Big Orange another last-second kick in the teeth.

The 1990 Vols bounced back from the heartbreaking loss vs. Alabama to finish 9-2-2. The 2000 Vols recovered from the heartbreaking loss vs. Florida to go 8-4.

Can the 2010 Vols turn tragedy into triumph?

With games at Georgia, vs. Alabama and at South Carolina looming, the answer will be evident rather quickly.


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