KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Lane Kiffin was ready for just about anything on Saturday night when he made his first return to Neyland Stadium as head coach.
But dodge an endless sea of bottles, both plastic and glass, along with an assortment of other projectiles, including a golf ball, in what was an ugly end to Ole’s 31-26 victory. Miss on Tennessee was not on her scoresheet.
“It’s an emotional game and the fans are emotional, but you never expect something like that, to see it all come out of the stands,” Kiffin told ESPN. “I got hit with a golf ball, but at least whoever threw it was smart enough to throw a dirty ball.”
With 54 seconds remaining, the game was delayed about 20 minutes after field officials ruled Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren was stopped just before the first goal on a game of fourth and 24th. at a questionable location.
The field call was confirmed by replay officials, and angry fans from the lower and upper decks began to spray the sideline and part of the pitch with debris and bottles, most of them filled with water and other substances. Several Ole Miss cheerleaders were affected.
Security staff eventually evacuated the Ole Miss sideline and pushed coaches and players into the middle of the pitch as match officials huddled in the middle of the pitch until some semblance of order was established. restored.
Tennessee fans had booed the entire game before when Ole Miss’s defensive players injured themselves after the Volunteers started moving the ball in attack.
Kiffin, who was Tennessee’s head coach in 2009 before heading to USC, joked that he was going to keep the yellow ball as a memento and said it was almost tied to several other items.
“There were a number of bottles with brown stuff in them,” Kiffin said. “I’m not sure what it was. It probably wasn’t moonlight. They probably wouldn’t waste moonlight on me.”
When play finally resumed, Ole Miss went to three and had to punt. With three timeouts remaining, Tennessee were able to reclaim the ball with 27 seconds left for the Ole Miss 47 after Velus Jones Jr. returned the punt from 40 yards.
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was injured in the first play of the drive, and substitute Joe Milton III was pushed out of bounds four games later in the last play of the game at the Ole Miss 8-yard line. .
Directors at the SEC and the University of Tennessee have issued strong statements condemning the bottle-throwing scene at the end of the game. Donde Plowman, Chancellor of UT, tweeted that she was “astonished and sickened by the behavior of some of the Vol fans at the end of tonight’s game.”
She added that she would call Ole Chancellor Miss Glenn Boyce on Sunday morning to offer her personal apologies on behalf of the University of Tennessee and “discuss what we can do about it.”
“Neyland Stadium has always been a place for families and we will continue to do so,” Plowman said.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in a statement after the game, said that “the actions of the fans during the Saturday night game were unacceptable under any circumstances. We are used to intense competition every week, but it is by no means acceptable to endanger the contest participants and disrupt a match “.
Sankey said the league would review existing conference policies and the commissioner’s power to impose sanctions and “communicate with management at the University of Tennessee – and all SEC member universities – to ensure that this situation will not happen again “.
Kiffin told ESPN he never pushed to end the game as bottles continued to be thrown from the stands.
“I just wanted to make sure our coaches and everyone on the sidelines who didn’t have helmets were safe,” Kiffin said. “The players have helmets. My thing was, ‘Let’s get this over and get out of here.'”
Kiffin complimented several Tennessee officials, including Bill Whitesell, who has come to the Ole Miss sideline to help keep everyone safe. Tennessee athletic director Danny White also stood on the Ole Miss sidelines with Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter for part of the delay and watched the stands as law enforcement attempted to defuse the situation.
White tweeted that the Tennessee fan base had much to be proud of through 59 minutes of football on Saturday and called it one of the best live sports atmospheres he has ever experienced. But he said what happened in the last minute was “unacceptable”. White apologized to the Ole Miss football program on behalf of the University of Tennessee.
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said he was disappointed the stoppage “was the story of this football game for a few of our fans because there were so many who represented the game. intensity in a great way tonight “.
Kiffin’s father Monte Kiffin, 82, had to be escorted off the pitch before the match was over with Kiffin’s sister Heidi. And once the game was over, Kiffin was bombarded with more items as he entered the visitor’s locker room tunnel, including a large box of popcorn.
“I also had a few # 1 signs, but it was the # 1 signs with the middle finger,” Kiffin joked. “I guess this is the story of my life. Nothing is ever normal.”
Ole quarterback Miss Matt Corral said players have known all week how important this contest is to Kiffin.
“The coach was pretty cool about this game, but we wanted him to know we were behind us,” said Corral, who had 231 yards and rushed for 195 more. “It makes it even nicer when you see how crazy their fans were to see him come back here and win.”