ATHENS, Ga. – 10 seconds.
That’s all it took to flip the script once more on this tantalizing tale of Tennessee football.
It’s also the amount of time it took to erase a late Georgia lead, hush a stadium full of red-clad fans and vault the Volunteers (5-0, 2-0) into the driver’s seat atop the SEC East.
Joshua Dobbs’ arching 43-yard Hail Mary to Jauan Jennings in the northwest corner of the Sanford Stadium end zone was much more than an improbable end to a 34-31 winning effort. From the time the pass fluttered into Jennings’ hands in front of a bevy of Georgia defenders as the horn sounded, the catch ranked right up there in Tennessee lore with Clint Stoerner’s fumble in the Arkansas game of 1998, Jeff Powell’s 60-yard scoring jaunt against Miami in the 1986 Sugar Bowl, and Condredge Holloway’s amazing tackle-breaking run against Georgia Tech in 1973.
It was undeniably memorable. And depending on where the Vols go from here, it could mean much more before the end of the season.
“On that play, I’m the back man. I just saw the ball and went and got it,” said Jennings, who bested at least three Georgia defenders to haul in the desperation heave from Dobbs.
“I see myself as a dog on the field, just a great competitor.”
“Throughout the game, in every situation, Jauan wants the ball,” Dobbs said. “He competes for every ball every time it comes his way.”
Jennings’ catch wasn’t as acrobatic as it was critical based on the proceedings surrounding it. Consider the events leading up to the final 10 ticks.
— Georgia controlled momentum and the scoreboard most of the game, but suddenly found itself trailing when Tennessee’s Derek Barnett sacked quarterback Jacob Eason in the end zone, causing a fumble that teammate Corey Vereen recovered for a go-ahead touchdown. With that, the Vols had their first lead at 28-24 with 2:56 remaining.
— Tennessee seemingly took a major step toward victory following an interception by Malik Foreman with 2:10 remaining. However, the Volunteers stumbled trying to run out the clock and had to punt the ball back to the Bulldogs with 1:07 to play.
— Eason belied his status as a freshman on Georgia’s ensuing drive, beating Foreman this time with a 47-yard scoring toss to Riley Ridley to give the hosts a seemingly insurmountable 31-28 advantage with only 10 seconds on the clock.
—Tennessee’s good fortune began when Georgia was penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration following their touchdown. That meant All-America kick returner Evan Berry had the opportunity to return the kickoff just past midfield to set up the heroics for Dobbs and Jennings.
— The rest is the latest addition to Tennessee football lore, and more importantly, another signal that Volunteer football has arrived on both the conference and national stage.
“There’s something about this team. They’re resilient. They understand. You don’t win a game like that unless you have character,” said Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who stated his team practices that same game-ending scenario on Thursdays of every week.
“It was kind of surreal. I saw the ball, tight spiral, had good lift. I thought we had a chance. It’s one of those moments in time you’ll remember forever.”
It was only 10 seconds on the clock. But its impact on Volunteer football will remain much longer.