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- Football coach
A French’s mustard bottle sailed from the Neyland Stadium stands on Saturday night.
It landed near the 10-yard line in the southeast corner, settling in a debris field of Dasani water bottles, crushed beer cans, vape pens, liquor bottles and a full hot dog expelled from its bun.
There were 54 seconds left in Tennessee football’s game against Ole Miss when the stadium devolved into a fracas of flying objects, including a neon yellow golf ball that hit Rebels coach Lane Kiffin.
“I just wanted to play,” Kiffin said. “The players got helmets. It was the coaches that were going to get hit.”
Tennessee athletics director Danny White called the actions “unacceptable” in a statement. He apologized to Ole Miss AD Keith Carter following the game. UT Chancellor Donde Plowman stated she was “astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans” in a statement on Twitter. She indicated she would call Ole Miss Chancellor Glenn Boyce to offer an apology.
“Neyland Stadium has always been a place for families, and we will keep it that way,” Plowman said.
Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren was ruled short of a first down on a fourth-and-24 attempt with less than a minute to play. Officials reviewed the play and upheld the ruling on the field, the second significant ruling that maddened the sellout crowd. UT had a first-quarter defensive touchdown called back after officials conferred and stated Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral’s forward progress had stopped.
Fans responded after the fourth-quarter call with boos and frustration, which boiled into catapulting anything conceivable toward the field after official Marc Curles declared the ruling stood as called. Half-filled water bottles exploded when they hit the field. The golf ball pelted Kiffin in the leg as he spoke with an official.
“There was a number of bottles with some brown stuff in them, so I’m not sure,” Kiffin said when asked if anything else hit him. “I don’t think it was moonshine. I don’t think they’d waste the moonshine on me.”
Ole Miss and Tennessee initially went on the field to resume play, but instead waited through the madness.
Security ushered the band out of the stands and down the south tunnel. UT’s cheer team moved down the sideline away from the student section, covering their heads with placards. Police and stadium security worked to clear portions of the student section.
Ole Miss defensive lineman Quentin Bivens sat on the Rebels bench with a whiteboard covering his head. A Rebels staffer used another whiteboard to cover defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin’s head as he spoke with the defense.
The entire Ole Miss team eventually left the bench and moved onto the field.
“Player safety is the No. 1 thing you always worry about,” Vols coach Josh Heupel said. “Then how you are going to finish the football game. The situation that is coming up defensively and offensively. …
“Disappointed that will be a story — or the story — from this football game from a small amount of our fans. There were so many that represented Tennessee in a great way tonight.”
Tennessee’s public address announcer pleaded repeatedly with Vols fans to stop throwing items onto the field. His final plea indicated the game would be ruled a forfeit if the chaos did not cease.
UT had three timeouts remaining and an opportunity to stop Ole Miss, creating a chance to win.
“I am still locked in,” Vols safety Trevon Flowers said. “There was time in the clock. I can only control what we can control.”
The game resumed after nearly 20 minutes. Tennessee stuffed Ole Miss three straight times, forcing a punt. Velus Jones Jr. returned it 40 yards to the Rebels' 47.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker rushed for 14 yards, but was hurt on the play. Backup Joe Milton entered. Milton completed a pass to Walker Merrill, then spiked the ball. He threw to the end zone, but his pass attempt was just beyond Cedric Tillman’s reach. Milton ran on the final play for 13 yards, coming up 8 yards shy of the end zone.
“I think everybody here would say the same thing, you want to put the ball in the end zone,” Heupel said.
Kiffin put the hood on his white sweatshirt over his head as he walked to find Heupel on the field. He carried the golf ball with him, showing it during his postgame on-field interview with ESPN.
The former Vols coach, who was 7-6 in 2009 before bolting for Southern Cal, waved to the remaining UT students. He signaled No. 1 and pointed at his chest. He almost caught a water bottle as he walked beneath the field-goal post.
Policemen covered his head. He waved again, took off his visor and launched it into the crowd above the south tunnel.
After hundreds of airborne projectiles, Kiffin’s visor was the final item thrown — the only one that went from the field into the stands.
“I think it was more students that were 8 or something when we were here before or whatever,” Kiffin said. “Early on, going out there, I thought it was a different reception. I think that’s one of the most passionate fan bases in America.
“You get 100,000 of them together and things don’t go their way and lot of energy is going, they got upset, I don’t know.”
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: How Tennessee Vols fans trashed end of Ole Miss game vs. Lane Kiffin