Tennessee fans took to the field after Ole Miss’ 20-17 win and injured a few team members. The Tennessee coaching staff, including Lane Kiffin, was inside the locker room when they were pelted with objects from both sides of the stadium in what became an ugly scene for everyone involved.
THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE — Lane Kiffin was prepared for anything in his first visit to Neyland Stadium as a head coach on Saturday night.
But evading a never-ending sea of trash and glass bottles, as well as a variety of other missiles, including a golf ball, in an ugly finish to Ole Miss’ 31-26 win over Tennessee wasn’t on his play sheet.
“It’s an emotional game, and fans are passionate,” Kiffin said, “but you never anticipate anything like that to come flying out of the stands.” “A golf ball was thrown at me, but at least the person who threw it was savvy enough to hurl a filthy range ball.”
With 54 seconds left in the game, officials on the field decided that Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren was stopped just short of the first-down marker on a fourth-and-24 play in a debatable place, causing the game to be delayed for about 20 minutes.
Irate spectators in both the lower and higher decks started showering the sideline and part of the field with trash and bottles, most of them filled with water and other substances, when replay officials affirmed the ruling on the field. A number of Ole Miss cheerleaders were injured.
The Ole Miss sideline was finally evacuated, and the coaches and players were forced to the center of the field, while game officials convened at midfield until some sort of order was restored.
When Ole Miss defensive players went down with injuries after the Vols started moving the ball on offense, Tennessee supporters were already booing loudly.
After a call that halted a Tennessee drive late in Saturday’s game was upheld, fans tossed items onto the field. Bryan Lynn is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Kiffin, who was the head coach at Tennessee from 2009 until assuming the USC position, quipped that he was going to retain the yellow range ball as a memento and that he came close to being tagged with many other objects.
“There were a few bottles with dark substance in them,” Kiffin said. “What it was, I’m not sure. It wasn’t likely moonshine. They’re not likely to squander moonshine on me.”
Ole Miss went three-and-out and had to punt when the game was eventually restarted. After Velus Jones Jr. recovered the punt 40 yards with three timeouts remaining, Tennessee was able to receive the ball back with 27 seconds left at the Ole Miss 47.
On the first play of the drive, Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was hurt, and his backup, Joe Milton III, was shoved out of bounds four plays later on the game’s last play at the Ole Miss 8-yard line.
Both the SEC and the University of Tennessee released statements strongly denouncing the bottle-throwing incident at the conclusion of the game. UT’s chancellor, Donde Plowman, tweeted that she was “amazed and appalled” by the actions of certain Vol fans at the conclusion of the game.
She went on to say that she will phone Ole Miss chancellor Glenn Boyce on Sunday morning to apologize on behalf of the University of Tennessee and “explore what we can do to put this right.”
Plowman said, “Neyland Stadium has always been a haven for families, and we will maintain it that way.”
After the game, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey stated in a statement that the event was a success “Under no circumstances were the behavior of spectators at Saturday night’s game appropriate. Every week, we’re used to fierce rivalry, but it’s never appropriate to put contestants in risk or for a game to be disrupted.”
The SEC will evaluate current conference standards and the commissioner’s ability to issue fines, according to Sankey, and “speak with the leadership at the University of Tennessee — and all of the SEC’s member colleges — to ensure this scenario does not occur again.”
As bottles continued to be thrown from the fans, Kiffin informed ESPN that he never sought to halt the game.
“All I wanted to do was make sure our coaches and everyone on our sideline who didn’t have a helmet was safe,” Kiffin said. “Helmets are worn by the players. ‘Let’s finish this and get out of here,’ I thought.”
Several Tennessee officials, notably Bill Whitesell, who rushed over to the Ole Miss sideline to assist keep everyone safe, were praised by Kiffin. During part of the wait, Tennessee athletic director Danny White and Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter were on the Ole Miss sideline, watching the stands while law enforcement authorities attempted to deescalate the situation.
White tweeted on Saturday that the Tennessee fan base had plenty to be proud of through 59 minutes of football, calling it one of the finest live sports atmospheres he’d ever seen, but that what happened in the last minute was “unacceptable.” On behalf of the University of Tennessee, White apologized to the Ole Miss football team.
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel expressed disappointment that the game’s suspension “will be the narrative from this football game from a tiny percentage of our supporters when there were so many that represented intensity in a positive manner today.”
Kiffin’s father, 82-year-old Monte Kiffin, and Kiffin’s sister Heidi had to be removed from the field before the game ended. As he approached the visiting locker room tunnel after the game, Kiffin was showered with other things, including a large box of popcorn.
“I received a couple No. 1 signs, too,” Kiffin laughed, “but they were the No. 1 ones with the middle finger.” “This, I suppose, is the tale of my life. Nothing is ever really normal.”
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral said the players were aware of Kiffin’s importance throughout the week.
“Coach was very chill about the game, but we wanted him to know we were rooting for him,” said Corral, who threw for 231 yards and carried for another 195. “When you see how enraged their supporters were to see him come back in here and win, it just makes it that more sweeter.”