(Ed. note from Tom: This has been promoted to the front page, because if you don't know the story behind the 2005 MTSU game, you need to.)
This is reposted from a comment that I made, and it got really long, so I decided to send it in as a full fanpost.
It's important to set the scene for how our 2005 season was going, what was at stake, and what happened to set up that moment. Here goes:
Prior to the 2005 football season, Vandy had endured four straight 2-win seasons. You read that right. We went 2-9, 2-10, 2-9, 2-9 in the previous four years. But with everybody coming back (including future NFL pro bowler Jay Cutler) there was a glimmer of hope. The first game was a road test against fellow private-school-who-takes-academics-seriously-in-a-Power-5-conference Wake Forest. It was a close battle, but we emerged victorious 24-20. The next week, we went on the road to play Arkansas, who at the time was a dark-horse contender for the SEC West. Darren McFadden was a freshman on this team and they were 10-point favorites in front of nearly 70,000 fans in Fayetteville. We went down early, but kept the pressure on them and a late Cutler TD pass put us up 28-24. An interception with :30 to go sealed the upset and got us off to 2-0 for the first time in forever. I recall this game in particular because it wasn't carried on TV in Nashville (those were the days) and I bet my Arkansas-alum boss at the time on this game. I was a sophomore at Vandy and worked on campus and he had to eat crow after this big win.
The next week brought higher expectations as a visibly-charged student section was completely full around kickoff time for a visit from the sagging Ole Miss Rebels. We were favored, and we jumped out to a three-touchdown lead which we held on to, getting us to 3-0 and 2-0 in the SEC. We were suddenly the hot team of the moment, and with a visit from I-AA Richmond coming the next Saturday for Parent's Weekend, Vandy fans had reason to get excited. Vandy handed the Richmond Spiders a roughly 35-point spanking where the subs got a lot of time to play in the second half and we were off to a 4-0 start. Things were good. We were getting votes in the AP poll, Jay Cutler was being floated as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate (he ended up winning SEC Player of the Year), and we were sitting pretty. We had MTSU next, followed by two tough home opponents in LSU (the year Katrina hit Louisiana) and Georgia. Both LSU and UGa were in the top-10 at the time, and there was a rumor going around that if we managed to get to Georgia at 6-0, then ESPN College Gameday would pay us a visit and host that game. Needless to say, we were excited.
Going in to the MTSU game, we were 17-point favorites, and playing the night game seemingly on a collision course with a bowl game, which we hadn't made since 1982. However, there were some warning signs that things would not go well. There had been a shooting at a campus dorm the night of the Richmond game during a party featuring most of the football team and a couple of our football players happened to catch some shrapnel from the gunshots. A rumor went around campus that the shooter was anMTSU student, but that was quickly put to rest. At the time, we did not think much of that event but I think the psyche of the team may have been effected by that event. I'm not suggesting they were suffering from PTSD but some of the players may have been shaken up by the shooting and may not have been totally focused.
The game itself went auspiciously, and there were signs that the team and the coaching staff weren't focused or taking MTSU very seriously. Cutler threw an end-zone pick early in the first half, and we could not seem to finish most of our promising offensive drives. We had to settle for three Brian Hahnfelt field-goals. Head Coach Bobby Johnson, in a move eerily similar to last week's shenanigans against USC, decided to insert redshirt freshman Chris Nickson in at QB and split Cutler out wide for a one or two random plays in the middle of several successive drives. The problem was Nickson simply ran a draw up the middle on all three or four plays that he was in. There was no trickery, no gadget plays, not even a fake toss to Cutler to throw the defense off. These interruptions destroyed the flow of our offense and led to multiple stalled drives. Our defense seemed to be engaged though, and we held on to a narrow lead. A costly fumble in our own territory in the 4th quarter allowed MTSU to score and go up 17-16 late. That's when we needed to implement our two-minute offense. Cutler led the team down the field, peppering short throws to senior gunshot-wound-victim Erik Davis and then-freshman Earl Bennett. At one point in the drive, Davis caught a pass and ran out of bounds but the clock continued to run. Everyone in the student section chanted "clock! clock! clock!" but to no avail, and valuable seconds ran off the scoreboard. That all set up the fateful 42-some-odd yard FG attempt. MTSU put 13 men on the field, and the sound of the thud of the ball getting swatted down followed by the roar of the MTSU sideline and fans is forever burned into my memory. Not that I'm upset about it or anything... For what it's worth, the 2005 team went on to lose their next 6 games (we only played 11 that season) including heart-breaking double-OT losses to Florida (the infamous Earl Bennett excessive celebration game) and to Kentucky, who was 2-9 that year. We finished the season on a high note, with a stunning upset of THEM in Knoxville, but we were only 5-6. The bowl bid had to wait until 2008.
It was an egregious call that the refs missed. It was awful. VTPhD was in school with me at the time and I remember him telling me about the 13 men on the field the week after that game. However, the team had no business being that close against a vastly inferior opponent. We should have beaten MTSU by 17 and should not have let the refs decide our bowl fate that year.
That's why that kick is such a big deal around here. It's been 11 years, and we are still really pissed about it.