Tennessee fans littered the field at Neyland Stadium with all types of garbage after a late-fourth quarter ball spot led to the Volunteers falling short of a long fourth-down conversion against visiting No. 13 Ole Miss. Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker hit Jacob Warren for a 23-yard gain on fourth-and 24 with 54 seconds left on a play that was upheld after video review.
The replay looked close after several camera angles, and it didn't sit well with Tennessee fans. That was when things got bad on Rocky Top. The crowd littered the field with trash, leading to a delay of more than 20 minutes while officials attempted to get the situation under control.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin was hit with a golf ball. Fans threw water bottles, beer cans, vape pens, pizza boxes and even -- notably -- an entire container of mustard. Players scurried to the center of the field to avoid the debris, and the garbage throwing got so bad that the cheerleaders exited, the Tennessee dance team ran into the tunnel holding signs over their heads, and the Tennessee band cleared out of the stands.
In short, it was potentially the most embarrassing display of the season.
What makes matters worse is that Tennessee still had an outside chance at winning the game. The Vols had all three timeouts after the turnover on downs and stressed the Rebels defense to a point where multiple players hit the field with cramps in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee actually got the ball back at midfield after a long punt return, but Hooker went down with what appeared to be a hamstring injury after converting a first down. Joe Milton entered as his replacement but was unable to put the ball in the end zone as Ole Miss won 31-26.
"I don't know if I'm more excited that we found a way to win, or that I wasn't hit with the golf balls they were throwing at me," Kiffin said after the game.
Kiffin took the golf ball with him off the field and threw his visor into the stands on his way into the tunnel after catching a water bottle thrown at his head.
Tennessee athletic director Danny White issued a statement on the actions of fans at the end of the game.
"Our Tennessee fanbase had so much to be proud of through 59 minutes of football Saturday night -- they created one of the best live sporting event atmospheres I've ever experienced -- but what transpired in the game's final minute was unacceptable," White said. "Player and fan safety is paramount at all times. While I'm incredibly proud of our team's effort on the field, I'm disappointed that their relentless performance was overshadowed in the game's closing moments by the actions of several fans whose actions did not represent the Volunteer Spirit or the true character of our university. On behalf of the University of Tennessee, I'd like to apologize to the Ole Miss football program and congratulate their student-athletes on a hard fought win."
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey also chimed in.
"The Conference has established expectations for behavior and sportsmanship, and the actions of fans at Saturday night's game were unacceptable under any circumstances," Sankey said. "We are accustomed to intense competition every week, but under no circumstances is it acceptable to endanger the contest participants and disrupt a game. We will review existing Conference policies and the Commissioner's authority to impose penalties and communicate with the leadership at the University of Tennessee -- and all of the SEC's member universities -- to make certain this situation is not repeated."
Finally, Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman issued a statement on Twitter expressing her disappointment.
"I am astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight's game," she wrote. "Good sportsmanship must be part of who we are as Volunteers. Behavior that puts student athletes, coaches, visitors, and other fans at risk is not something we will tolerate."