For just a few moments, it felt like '98 again.
The No. 6 team in the country was on its heels. The Tennessee Volunteers were seconds away from the signature win a decade in the making. Neyland Stadium had finally claimed an elite victim.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray threw a 2-yard touchdown with 5 seconds in regulation to guarantee overtime, and an untimely Vols mishap in the extra period resulted in a 34-31 Bulldogs win on Saturday afternoon.
"It kills me because they've given everything," head coach Butch Jones said after the loss. "This team has become closer than any team I've ever been a part of and they hurt, but we're going to keep grinding."
The Vols battled back from a 14-point deficit and orchestrated a fourth quarter comeback that culminated with a 7-yard Rajion Neal touchdown which gave UT a 31-24 lead. With 1:54 left in regulation, Georgia's national title hopes rested in the hands of its senior quarterback.
Murray then led a 10-play, 75-yard drive, converting three third downs — the last of which was a touchdown pass to Rantavious Wooten with just 5 seconds remaining that tied the game at 31 apiece.
Tennessee got the ball first in overtime and struck when receiver Alton "Pig" Howard dove for the pylon and seemingly scored on a 7-yard end-around. But after review, referees ruled the ball slipped out of Howard's hands just inches before hitting the pylon.
Since the ball went out of the end zone after leaving Howard's fingertips, it resulted in a touchback. That allowed the Bulldogs to gain possession, needing only a field goal to win.
Marshall Morgan's 42-yarder ended a game for the ages.
Tennessee's so-close-you-can-touch-it win over an elite SEC opponent transformed back into a mirage.
"(Howard's) beating himself up right now," junior quarterback Justin Worley said after the game. "But we're only halfway through the season. He can't let that affect anything else he's doing because he's played phenomenally for us in the past few weeks."
Jones' squad faced a 17-3 deficit at halftime, and the Bulldogs threatened to make it a three-possession game before Morgan's 39-yard field goal clanked off the post.
Then, it was like a switch went off for the "smokey" gray-clad Vols. Worley led his team down the field, connecting on a 19-yard circus catch by true freshman wideout Marquez North in the corner of the end zone to trim the lead to 17-10.
"We never gave up," Worley said. "We were down 17-3. It could have easily been 24- or 31-3."
Not long after, a pair of true freshman tied up the contest when linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin rummaged through to block a punt, which was returned 15 yards to the house by walk-on Devaun Swafford—his second touchdown of the season.
"We expected to block a punt," Jones said. "We work hard on it every week. We talk about winning in special teams and we spend an inordinate amount of time in the special teams game."
A sellout crowd of 102,455 filled Neyland Stadium with electricity and booming echoes of Rocky Top.
"It was amazing. I don't think I've ever seen a crowd get that animated," said Neal, who finished with 28 carries for 148 yards and two scores. "It was electric in there."
The Vols' chances took a shot on the final play of the third quarter, when the usually pocket-stationed Murray scampered for 57 yards through the heart of the UT defense. Georgia took a 24-17 lead on a three-yard plunge by Brendan Douglas to open up the fourth.
It was that adverse moment that seemed to bring out the Vols' best. Immediately following, Tennessee marched down the field and converted a fourth-and-1 with a 43-yard pitch to Neal. A 16-yard strike from Worley to Jason Croom set up Neal's one-yard score that knotted things up at 24.
The gutsy play-call by Jones to pitch to Neal was the first of three fourth-down conversions in the evening.
"We have the best offensive line in the SEC," Jones said. "That's what we believe, so we're going to (go for fourth downs)."
A combination of the deafening Neyland crowd and a stiff defensive effort forced a Georgia punt midway through the fourth.
What followed was a drive that, at the time, looked to be etching its place on the long list of unforgettable UT football moments. Worley led a 13-play, 80-yard drive over the span of 6:42 — including two fourth-down conversions — that gave UT the lead with less than two minutes left.
In the end, the chaotic ripping down of the goal posts was put on hold.
Murray, now the all-time SEC career passing yards leader, couldn't be stopped.
But the atmosphere inside Neyland Stadium is one Jones is calling upon his fans to bring more frequently moving forward.
"We're going to need that (atmosphere)," Jones said. "I need to challenge everyone. I need you to come to the South Carolina game. We're on (Fall) Break and our team needs it."