Alabama kicker Will Reichard didn’t miss a kick a season ago. As he lined up for a 50-yard field goal to take the lead with less than 25 seconds remaining, Tennessee fans were desperate for a miss to keep its chances alive.
Reichard’s kick looked good halfway to the goalpost before fading just right of the uprights. Tennessee fans erupted. After a back breaking fumble six with five minutes to play, Tennessee found a way to get the game to overtime and would maybe even get a throw to the end zone.
Not so fast my friend.
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Hendon Hooker was behind center with 15 seconds left, needing 33 yards to set up a 52-yard field goal.
First play, Hooker to Keyton for 18 yards to midfield. Timeout number one. Tennessee came back out with nine seconds to play and Hooker found Bru McCoy over the middle. McCoy hauled in a contested catch for 27 yards— the Southern Cal transfer’s first catch since the Vols’ first offensive play.
Temporarily the clock ran out but McCoy was down with two seconds and the refs put the time back on the clock.
“The ability to finish a half or a game the way that we did offensively today and the games you were speaking about, it starts with your quarterback,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “Him being able to be decisive. You have to have trust in him. Five guys up front doing a phenomenal job protecting tonight. Their defensive line is as good as any in the country. Then guys on the perimeter making plays. Ramel Keyton huge catch. Bru (McCoy) setting it up.”
Nick Saban iced Chase McGrath — who previously missed an extra point — once but didn’t use his final timeout. McGrath hesitated while approaching the kick before kicking a wobbler that was maybe tipped at the line of scrimmage.
The kick knuckled 41 yards right down the middle. McGrath only needed it to clear 40 yards to be good. It did just that.
“Honestly, it wasn’t my cleanest hit,” McGrath said. “I had full confidence in Matty (Matthew Salanksy) my snapper, Paxton (Brooks) my holder and that the line was going to protect me. Really just going out there and focusing on doing your job. We were able to get it through.”
So, was it blocked or just a knuckle ball?
“I don’t know if it was tipped,” McGrath said. “It may have been judging off that ball flight.”
Tipped or not, the kick went through the uprights and 101,915 fans poured onto Shield-Watkins Field for the first time since 1998 and pandemonium reigned once again. Final score, Tennessee 52, Alabama 49.
Tennessee went 45 yards in 15 seconds for a drive and a night Tennessee fans won’t soon forget.