With 2:24 to play Saturday night in a raucous Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tennessee had both the ball and an opportunity to topple No. 8 Alabama.
It was exactly the scenario you dream about in your backyard after school. Down six. Less than three minutes to play in the game. The chance to take down a Top 10 hated rival on the road.
But like it has systematically done for eight straight seasons, Alabama took those hopeful dreams and turned them into a crimson nightmare.
Josh Dobbs was sacked and stripped by Ryan Anderson as the Vols attempted to drive for the win, sealing a 19-14 victory for Alabama that extends its winning streak over the Vols to nine games.
"We believed we were going to win the football game coming in," Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. "We came up short."
Butch Jones' team stormed out of the gate in the first quarter, matching an opening 20-yard Derrick Henry touchdown run with an 11-yard strike from Josh Dobbs to Josh Smith to bring the game to 7-7 with three minutes to play in the first quarter. It was the first time Tennesee scored a touchdown on Alabama in the first quarter since 2010, and set the tone for a ping pong affair in which both teams moved the ball well between the 20s but struggled to punch it in when it counted.
"We competed. We showed them that we can compete," safety Brian Randolph said. "We just have to finish. A loss is a loss. There is still a lot to look forward to. We have five games left and we’re not going to let Alabama beat us twice.”
After racking up 117 yards in the first quarter, the Vols managed just 60 in the second and third quarters as the two teams went into the locker room at halftime deadlocked at 7-7. Tennessee had a chance to take the lead into the locker room, but Aaron Medley missed the first of three field goals, this one from 51 yards out, to keep the score at one touchdown apiece.
The Tide tacked on two Adam Griffith field goals in the third quarter to go up 13-7 and stifled Tennessee's passing attack. The Vols managed 171 yards through the air and 303 total, making a name for themselves on the ground behind Jalen Hurd's hard-earned 92 yards and one touchdown.
It was Hurd who burst around Alabama's defense for an 12-yard touchdown to give Tennessee its first lead over Alabama since 2011, stunning the capacity crowd and breathing new life into a team that began to find its rhythym on the ground. But that's when Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker started to use the one-on-one matchups he was given to move the ball efficiently down the field for his team. Coker brought the Tide down to the 14-yard line when Henry rumbled for his second touchdown of the day to put Alabama on top for good.
“We communicated well. We flew to the ball," Randolph said. "We had some missed tackles, but we had each other’s back when we did. (If) they broke one tackle, two other guys were there to make the next tackle.”
The junior ended the day with 28 carries for 143 yards.
Henry's score brought about Tennessee's potential game-winning drive that was stopped almost before it started, marking the fourth time this season the Vols have lost by one possession. The game served as a measurable litmus test to how far the program has grown since 2013, but according to Jones, it still wasn't good enough in the end.
"I'm really, really proud of our team. I thought our team showed some grit, some determination and some resiliency on the road against a very, very quality Top 10 opponent in a hostile environment," he said. "But at the University of Tennessee, there are no moral victories."