Down by one with 3:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, UT head coach Butch Jones was faced with a decision that held the entire weight of Neyland Stadium on its shoulders.
On a fourth-and-4, the first-year head coach decided to punt the ball back to South Carolina and put faith in his defense to get one more stop.
The plan went according to script.
"If you go for it on fourth and three, fourth and four, that's basically an all or nothing play," Jones said. "You're rolling the dice. If you don't get it, they have the ball at midfield and get a first down or two, the game is over with. I was going by the percentage game and our kids executed and did a great job."
The defense forced a three-and-out that laid the foundation for junior quarterback Justin Worley to orchestrate a drive down the field that set up senior kicker Michael Palardy for a 19-yard field goal that fluttered through the uprights as time expired and lifted UT to a 23-21 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.
Two weeks after the Volunteer faithful were emotionally devastated following a defeat at the hands of Georgia in overtime, 95,736 orange and white-clad fans had something to cheer about as Palardy's kick sailed through the uprights to clinch the upset victory.
"It meant everything to me," Palardy said. "It's been a long time coming. I want to give it up to the offense and defense for putting me in that position. I couldn't have done it without the plays that they made."
The Coral Springs, Fla., native would not have been in that situation without the efforts of true freshman Marquez North, who made the highlight play of the game on the final drive, reeling in a circus-like, one-handed catch on a third-and-10 that went for 39 yards and put UT in field goal position.
North finished the day with 102 yards on three catches, making him the first receiver for the Vols to eclipse the 100-yard mark since Justin Hunter and Mychal Rivera achieved it in the same game against Missouri on Nov. 10 last season.
"We knew the situation the game was," sophomore wide receiver Pig Howard said. "We saw time on the clock, and we knew we needed to make a play. It was just fortunate that Marquez ended up making a big play.
"We hit a couple of bumps at the beginning of the quarter, and I told him, 'Just keep your head right and stay focused.' That's one thing I can say, he is a very mature freshman. He stayed positive and he made the play for us."
Defensively, the Vols were stout, as they kept the Gamecocks from attaining a first down in the fourth quarter, validating Jones' faith by coming up with the three-and-out to get the UT offense the ball with 2:48 remaining.
"We felt good," senior defensive lineman Dan Hood said. "We had played well during the first, second, and start of the fourth quarter. We knew what we had to do. We knew what plays they were going to run.
"We had to go out there and execute our defense. We forced them into a big play situation, and they couldn't convert."
The victory is UT's first against a ranked opponent since Oct. 31, 2009 when the Vols beat South Carolina. Since then, the Vols had lost 19-straight games to Top 25 foes. For the UT seniors, the win is their first against ranked opposition.
"We needed that badly, desperately," senior running back Rajion Neal said. "It's been a long time and that's something that I think is going to jump start and push us in the right direction."