KNOXVILLE — Fourth-and -12.
That's all that stood between Tennessee and its first Southeastern Conference win of the year in its sixth league game Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
If the Volunteers could hold the Missouri Tigers on fourth-and-12 from the UT 25-yard line with less than a minute to play, they would defeat the Tigers 28-21 and improve to 5-5 overall with two games to go.
If they could hold on fourth-and-12, well, "we came in expecting to win," Vols coach Derek Dooley said.
It had certainly looked that way at halftime. The Vols led 21-7 on the scoreboard and 384-64 in total yards. UT might not only win this game but run away it, given its newly stout defense against a Tigers team that entered the game ranked 12th in the 14-team league in total offense.
But then Mizzou running back Kendial Lawrence broke off a 77-yard TD run on the first snap of the third quarter to pull the Tigers within 21-14.
And when the Vols went back in front 28-14 later in the third, Mizzou scored again to get within a touchdown.
But that score remained unchanged heading into the final 56 seconds, Mizzou facing fourth-and-12 from the UT 25.
"You're supposed to make that play 10 out of 10 times," UT defensive back Prentis Waggner said. "I had no doubt we were going to win."
Mizzou had other ideas. Especially 6-foot-6 freshman wideout Dorial Green-Beckham. He literally drew up a play on the palm of his hand, telling quarterback James Franklin, "I'll be open."
Franklin was so concerned that the UT defense had heard his receiver's homemade play that he almost ignored it. But Green-Beckham is 6-6 and he promised his QB he'd been open on a similar route moments earlier.
Tennessee went to a zone defense, leaving safety Byron Moore to pick between two receivers in his area. Green-Beckham was left alone along the left sideline of the end zone.
Franklin found him. Touchdown. Tie game. Overtime. Eventual loss, the Vols falling 51-48 in the fourth extra period, their record slipping to 4-6 overall and 0-6 in the SEC.
"On fourth-and-12 we had to make a play and we didn't do it," Dooley said.
From across the way on that play, guarding the other side of the field, UT defensive back Justin Coleman couldn't believe what he'd just seen.
"I just thought, 'How did we blow this?'" he recalled. "This was going to be an easy win for us."
At least it was until the Tigers reached fourth-and-12 against the worst defense in the SEC.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...