KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Trash talking is not unusual at a college football game. Throwing trash is another matter.
The ending of Saturday night’s game between the University of Tennessee and the University of Mississippi turned ugly when Vols fans threw trash, including bottles -- plastic and glass -- along with other debris, including a bottle of mustard and a golf ball at Rebels coach Lane Kiffin, the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson reported.
Ole Miss had just stopped the Volunteers on downs with 54 seconds remaining to preserve a 31-26 victory. Tennessee’s Jacob Warren came up short of the first-down marker on a fourth-and-24 play, and when a replay upheld the call, fans in the lower and upper decks of Neyland Stadium began to throw items onto the field, ESPN reported.
The game was delayed for 20 minutes until order could be restored. The Tennessee band and cheerleaders had to be evacuated, and several Ole Miss cheerleaders were also hit, according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Kiffin, who coached at Tennessee in 2009 before leaving after one season, caught a water bottle and said he was hit by a golf ball as he exited the stadium, WBIR reported. He brought the golf ball to the team’s postgame news conference, the television station reported.
“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.”
“There were a number of bottles with some brown stuff in them,” Kiffin added. “I’m not sure what it was. It probably wasn’t moonshine. They probably wouldn’t waste moonshine on me.”
When the game resumed, Ole Miss went three-and-out and had to punt. Tennessee got the ball back and had all three of its timeouts remaining with 27 seconds left at the Ole Miss 47 after Velus Jones Jr. returned the kick punt 40 yards, ESPN reported.
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was injured on the first play of the drive, and backup Joe Milton III was pushed out of bounds four plays later at the Ole Miss 8-yard line as the game ended.
Tennessee athletic director Danny White condemned the incident in a statement.
While I’m incredibly proud of our team’s effort on the field,” White said. “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.”
Donde Plowman, the chancellor at Tennessee, 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 Mississippi chancellor Glenn Boyce 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.
“We are accustomed to intense competition every week, but under no circumstances is it acceptable to endanger the contest participants and disrupt the game,” Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “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.”
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