A Music City Bowl that featured 93 points and nearly 1,300 yards of offense came down to a defensive stop. And it was a mighty controversial one.
Purdue and Tennessee went into overtime with the game tied at 45-45. Tennessee opened the extra frame with the ball and opted to keep its offense on the field on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line.
Tennessee’s Jaylen Wright took a handoff and Purdue's front stuffed him. The officials ruled that Wright’s forward progress was stopped short of the goal line, giving Purdue a clutch defensive stand. However, it appeared that Wright was never down and actually reached the ball across the plane of the end zone for a touchdown.
This was ruled no touchdown for Tennessee because his forward progress was stoppedpic.twitter.com/cSCvxVoQxl
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) December 31, 2021
On the replay, the whistle was clearly sounded after Wright reached the ball into the end zone. However, because forward progress was ruled to have been stopped, the timing of the whistle does not matter.
The play was reviewed and quickly upheld.
On the ensuing possession, Purdue’s Mitchell Fineran booted a 39-yard field goal to give the Boilermakers a wild 48-45 victory.
Bowl game of the year?
Purdue (+7) takes it in overtime 🚂
— Yahoo Sportsbook (@YahooSportsbook) December 31, 2021
Tennessee had early lead, Purdue fought back
Tennessee’s offense was on fire from the jump, but Purdue clawed back into the game by outscoring the Vols 16-0 in the second quarter.
UT had a 21-7 lead after the first quarter thanks in part to two deep-ball touchdowns from Hendon Hooker to Cedric Tillman. Purdue’s offense got things going in the second quarter. Fineran connected on three field goals in the quarter and then a strip sack of Hooker set up an Aidan O’Connell touchdown pass to Payne Durham just before the half.
Purdue managed to flip that 21-7 deficit into a 23-21 advantage at halftime.
The 4th quarter was wild
Tennessee fought back and took a 31-30 lead into the fourth quarter. The Vols held onto that lead for most of that quarter, too, until the teams scored four combined touchdowns in the final five minutes of regulation.
First, O’Connell found Durham again for a 62-yard catch-and-run that featured a terrific effort by Durham, and some horrific tackling from the Tennessee secondary. That touchdown plus a two-point conversion gave Purdue a 38-31 lead with 4:58 to play.
PAYNE DURHAM RUMBLED 62 YARDS TO THE END ZONE 🔥 pic.twitter.com/0R9Ss8Tr5z
— ESPN (@espn) December 31, 2021
Tennessee needed just 1:21 to tie the score at 38-38. And then Purdue surged back in front just 40 seconds later when O’Connell hit Broc Thompson for a 70-yard score with 2:57 to go.
Hooker quickly led the Vols back down the field on the ensuing drive, tying the score at 45-45 with 1:35 to go. Both teams would have a chance to win the game in that final 95 seconds, but neither could get it done.
That set up the overtime controversy and the eventual victory for Purdue.
Purdue reaches 9 wins for first time since 2003
With the win, Purdue — who played the game without WR David Bell and DE George Karlaftis, its best two players — finished the year with a 9-4 record. It's the first time Purdue has reached the nine-win mark since 2003. The Boilermakers had three consecutive losing seasons entering 2021.
O’Connell threw for 534 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions in the win. Thompson, with both Bell and Milton Wright out of the lineup, stepped into a starring role and delivered seven catches for 217 yards and two scores.
On the Tennessee side, Hooker threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns and also added 62 yards rushing. Jabari Small added 180 rushing yards and Tillman caught seven passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort.
Tennessee dropped to 7-6 with the loss but is on much steadier footing entering 2022 than it was before the arrival of head coach Josh Heupel back in January.