NFL

Vols fans pelt field, hit Kiffin after Ole Miss win

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of the University of Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Lane Kiffin was ready for just about anything Saturday night in his first return to Neyland Stadium as a head coach.

But dodging an endless sea of bottles, both plastic and glass, along with an assortment of other projectiles, including a golf ball, in what was an ugly ending to Ole Miss’ 31-26 victory over Tennessee at Neyland Stadium wasn’t on his play sheet.

“It’s an emotional game and fans are emotional, but you never expect something like that, to see all that stuff come flying out of the stands,” Kiffin told ESPN. “I got hit with a golf ball, but at least whoever threw it was smart enough to throw a dirty range ball.”

With 54 seconds remaining, the game was delayed for around 20 minutes after officials on the field ruled that Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren was stopped just short of the first-down marker on a fourth-and-24 play in a questionable spot.

The call on the field was upheld by replay officials, and irate fans in both the lower and upper decks began showering the sideline and part of the field with debris and bottles, most of them filled with water and other substances. Several Ole Miss cheerleaders were hit.

Security personnel eventually evacuated the Ole Miss sideline and pushed the coaches and players to the middle of the field while the game officials huddled at midfield until there was some semblance of order restored.

Tennessee fans had already been roundly booing all game when Ole Miss defensive players would go down with injuries after the Vols would start moving the ball on offense.

Kiffin, who was the head coach at Tennessee in 2009 before taking the head job at USC, joked that he was going to keep the yellow range ball as a souvenir and said he was nearly pegged with several other items.

“There were a number of bottles with some brown stuff in them,” Kiffin said. “I’m not sure what it was. It probably wasn’t moonshine. They probably wouldn’t waste moonshine on me.”

When the game finally resumed, Ole Miss went three-and-out and had to punt, and with three timeouts remaining, Tennessee was able to get the ball back with 27 seconds left at the Ole Miss 47 after Velus Jones Jr. returned the punt 40 yards.

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was injured on the first play of the driver and his backup, Joe Milton, was pushed out of bounds four plays later on the game’s final play at the Ole Miss 8-yard line.

Administrators from both the SEC and the University of Tennessee issued strongly worded statements condemning the bottle-throwing scene at the end of the game. Donde Plowman, UT’s chancellor, tweeted that she was “astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight’s game.”

She added that she would be calling Ole Miss chancellor Glenn Boyce on Sunday morning to offer her personal apology on behalf of the University of Tennessee and “discuss what we can do to make this right.”

“Neyland Stadium has always been a place for families, and we will keep it that way,” Plowman said.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, in a statement after the game, said the “actions of fans at Saturday night’s game were unacceptable under any circumstances. We are accustomed to intense competition every week, but under no circumstance is it acceptable to endanger the contest participants and disrupt a game.”

Sankey said the league would 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.”

Kiffin told ESPN he never lobbied to end the game as bottles continued to be hurled from the stands.

“I just wanted to make sure our coaches and everybody on our sideline who didn’t have helmets were safe,” Kiffin said. “The players have helmets. My thing was, ‘Let’s finish this and get out of here.'”

Kiffin was complimentary of several Tennessee officials, including Bill Whitesell, who came over to the Ole Miss sideline to help keep everybody safe. Tennessee athletic director Danny White also stood over on the Ole Miss sideline with Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter during part of the delay and watched the stands as law enforcement officials tried to deescalate the situation.

White tweeted that the Tennessee fan base had much to be proud of through 59 minutes of football on Saturday and called it one of the best live sporting atmospheres he’s ever experienced, but said what transpired in the final minute was “unacceptable.” White apologized to the Ole Miss football program on behalf of the University of Tennessee.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said he’s disappointed that the stoppage of the game “will be the story from this football game from a small amount of our fans because there were so many that represented intensity in a great way tonight.”

Kiffin’s father, 82-year-old Monte Kiffin, had to be escorted from the field before the end of the game along with Kiffin’s sister Heidi. And once the game did end, Kiffin was pelted with more items as he entered the visiting locker room tunnel, including a big box of popcorn.

“I got a few number one signs, too, but they were the number one signs with the middle finger,” Kiffin joked. “I guess this is the story of my life. Nothing is ever normal.”

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral said the players knew all week how important this game was to Kiffin.

“Coach was pretty cool about this game, but we wanted him to know that we had his back,” said Corral, who passed for 231 yards and rushed for 195 yards. “It just makes it that much sweeter when you see how mad their fans were to see him come back in here and win.”

Source: Read Full Article