KNOXVILLE — Call it gray-ja-vu.
Clad in gray, Tennessee had a chance at notching a must-needed win.
Clad in gray, the Volunteers again came up one play here or there short of finishing the victory.
Vanderbilt quarterback Patton Robinette, a former star at nearby Maryville High School, scored the winning touchdown on a 5-yard run with 16 seconds left as the Commodores drove the length of the field at the end of the game to stun Tennessee 14-10 at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
"Went from the highest high to the lowest low," said defensive tackle Daniel Hood, one of 28 Tennessee seniors playing their final home game.
The high came only a few moments earlier, when the officiating crew called out the chain gang to measure if Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels had converted a fourth-and-inches with a sneak with 46 seconds on the clock.
When Tennessee's players saw space between the football and the first-down marker, many erupted.
Some recalled their freshman or sophomore seasons, when the Vols thought they had beaten LSU and North Carolina with no time left on the clock, only to lose both games.
"We were telling everybody, 'Calm down, calm down, it might not be over yet,'" right tackle Ja'Wuan James said.
And he was right.
The instant-replay booth overturned the call, and Vanderbilt correctly was awarded a first down at Tennessee's 33-yard line.
"No comment on the officials today," first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, before muttering under his breath, "Pretty much summarizes it."
On the ensuing play, Carta-Samuels hooked up with Jordan Matthews for a 25-yard gain and a first-and-goal situation, and two plays later, Robinette improvised after Tennessee sniffed out what looked to be a called jump pass, found open space to the right and strolled into the end zone.
"The ball goes your way sometimes, and sometimes it doesn't," James said, "but it was lot more opportunities [where] we could've won the game besides that one play."
He was right in that, too.
In a mistake-riddled game that included seven combined turnovers, Tennessee had a field-goal try blocked by Vanderbilt's Adam Butler in the first quarter, and freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs had a touchdown run wiped out by a block-in-the-back penalty on receiver Pig Howard midway through the fourth quarter.
That sequence ended with a failed attempt at a fake field goal, where kicker Michael Palardy rolled to his left and threw back right, and the pass intended for holder Tyler Drummer was intercepted by Vanderbilt's Paris Head.
Instead of choosing to kick a 39-yard field goal to take a 13-7 with a kicker who was 14-of-17 on the season at that point, Jones elected to go for a fake.
"I knew we needed a touchdown to win the football game," he explained. "There was a stiff crosswind coming, and we thought through the week we had it. I just [had] a gut feeling it'd take a touchdown there to win the football game."
After Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear's 42-yard field-goal attempt fell short, the Vols took over with a chance to run most of the remaining clock out, but the Commodores stuffed Rajion Neal on a third-and-1 run and took over 92 yards from the winning touchdown.
Tennessee's defense had held Vanderbilt to less than 200 yards for the game at that point and forced a pair of red-zone turnovers, and the Commodores managed just 16 yards in the entire third quarter.
"We had all the confidence in the world," said safety Brian Randolph, who intercepted a pass and forced a Vanderbilt fumble inside Tennessee's 5-yard line in the first half. "We knew we could stop them. We were prepared very well these two weeks.
"I don't know," he added. "We've just got to make plays."
It's what Tennessee didn't do against Georgia in October. The Bulldogs drove 75 yards in the final moments to tie the game on an Aaron Murray touchdown pass with five seconds left of a game Georgia won with an overtime field goal.
This loss knocked Tennessee out of a bowl game for the third consecutive year and marked the first time Vanderbilt had beaten the Vols in consecutive seasons since 1925 and 1926.
Jones was visibly frustrated in his postgame meeting with the media, and his first few answers were short and snippy.
"You have 28 seniors that have given everything to this football program," he said, "and, yeah, it's emotional, because you put a lot of effort and hard work into it, but I feel for these kids. They've done everything that we've asked of them, and unfortunately we came up short today.
"I hurt for them because of all the things that they have been through."
Even a win at lowly Kentucky next week won't keep the Vols from their fourth straight losing season.
"We've finally got the right coach in, and every person in that locker room believes that 100 percent," Hood said.
"That was our goal all year, to go to a bowl game, and we obviously didn't accomplish that. But I believe the culture has finally changed and we're finally getting the right guys in. We're finally working the way a Tennessee program is supposed to work. We're starting to build the right foundation.
"Sometimes, good things, you have to wait for, and right now, it's kind one of those processes that we've got to push through.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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