In a finish eerily similar to Tennessee’s October loss at LSU, the Vols left the sidelines to celebrate a dramatic victory when the Tar Heels apparently botched the final snap of regulation by running players on and off the field as the clock expired.
Seconds after the referee signaled “Game over,” however, a replay review reportedly showed that Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates got the ball spiked with one second left on the clock. The NFL’s run-off rule prevents an offense from profiting via a clock-stopping penalty in the game’s final 10 seconds but the NCAA has no such rule. So, after a five-yard illegal-procedure penalty moved the ball from Tennessee’s 17-yard line to the 22 and one second was put back on the game clock, Carolina placekicker Casey Barth booted a game-tying 39-yard field goal.
Essentially, Carolina was rewarded for committing an infraction (snapping the ball with several players in motion) on what should’ve been the game’s final play.
“It’s why they have a 10-second run-off rule in the NFL,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said.
Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime but Barth booted a 23-yard field goal in the second OT to give the Tar Heels a bizarre 30-27 win.
“I thought I’d seen it all in Baton Rouge,” a dejected Dooley said afterward. “But, just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t.”
Trying hard to be philosophical, the head man added that his team had “a lot of opportunities before the end to win the game.”
Down 17-14 at halftime, Tennessee took a 20-17 lead when Tyler Bray hooked up with fellow freshman Justin Hunter on an eight-yard touchdown pass with 5:16 remaining. Daniel Lincoln’s point-after was blocked, however, and that would prove crucial.
After stopping Carolina’s offense, Tennessee took possession at the UNC 44-yard line with 1:36 remaining. One Vol first down would’ve sealed the win but three running plays lost a yard and Chad Cunningham punted into the end zone. Still, the Tar Heels had just 39 seconds to move from their 20-yard line into field-goal position. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, that was time enough.
A 28-yard pass from Yates to Todd Harrelson, coupled with a questionable 15-yard penalty against Vol safety Janzen Jackson for leading with the helmet, advanced the ball to Tennessee’s 37-yard line. Three plays and one controversial replay review later, Barth booted his game-tying field goal.
Dooley carefully avoided ripping the officials but suggested that the Heels never should have gotten a second put back on the clock following their mishandling of the spike play.
“It was chaos again (as happened vs. LSU in October),” the Vol coach said. “They run a bunch of guys on the field and the umpire doesn’t jump up and allow (Tennessee’s defense time to answer with) a substitution. They let ‘em snap the ball and they get a penalty. That allowed them to get their field-goal team on and kick it with one second.”
The fourth quarter ended at this point but Tennessee’s misfortune didn’t. Vol defensive end Gerald Williams was flagged for throwing his helmet, enabling Carolina to start its first overtime possession at the Vol 12½ yard line, instead of the 25. After a seven-yard pass, Tennessee was penalized again – this time for using the facemask to tackle UNC tailback Shaun Draughn at the 2-yard line. The penalty cost the Vols a mere yard but an angry UT fan hurled a whiskey bottle onto the field, missing one of the officials by perhaps 10 feet. Yates scored on a sneak two plays later to give Carolina a 27-20 lead.
Tennessee answered, however, when Bray hit tight end Luke Stocker with a 20-yard TD pass on the second play of the Vols’ OT possession to tie the score and send the game into a second extra period.
An underthrow by Bray was picked off by Quan Sturdivant in the second overtime, however, and the Tar Heels won the game on Barth’s 23-yard field goal.
The game started on an ominous note for the Vols, as Draughn hit a gaping hole at left tackle, faked Jackson off his feet and sped 58 yards for a touchdown on the Tar Heels’ third offensive snap.
Tennessee pulled even when Bray hit Gerald Jones with a 29-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter. A bobbled pass by Stocker was intercepted by UNC’s Zach Brown and returned 43 yards to the Vol 10-yard line but Tennessee’s defense held, forcing the Tar Heels to settle for a 28-yard Barth field goal and a 10-7 lead.
Tennessee eased ahead 14-10 when Bray found Da’Rick Rogers with a 45-yard TD pass 1:30 shy of halftime but Carolina zoomed 72 yards in five plays and took a 17-14 lead when Yates found Erik Highsmith with a 39-yard touchdown pass 27 seconds shy of the break.
Considering the flukish nature of Tennessee’s losses to LSU and North Carolina, Dooley was asked if he felt like the unluckiest coach in America.
“No, I’m lucky to be at Tennessee,” he replied. “That’s not bad luck, being the head coach at Tennessee.”