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WTF Vandy? Bad Luck, Round 2: (2) Earl Bennett Gets Flagged vs. (3) MTSU Blocks a Kick

In retrospect, the 2005 season was, well...

Vanderbilt v Florida Photo by Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images

(2) Earl Bennett Gets Flagged for Excessive Celebration at Florida, 2005

In 2005, Vanderbilt went to The Swamp to play the #13 Florida Gators. With 4:00 left in the game, Vanderbilt got the ball back after a Florida drive that took 8 minutes and 52 seconds and ended in a Gator touchdown to give the home team a 14-point lead. Jay Cutler went 7 of 10 passing to march 61 yards in 1:54 to get the Commodores within 7 points. Bryant Hahnfeldt’s onside kick was bobbled by a Florida player then recovered by Andrew Pace. Cutler would go 3 of 8, but he completed two critical throws on 3rd down. Then Smokin’ Jay zipped a pass to Earl Bennett in the back of the end zone to get the score to 35-34 pending the extra point. Head Coach Bobby Johnson was going to call a timeout and almost certainly attempt a 2-Point Conversion, but there was some yellow laundry on the field.

Earl Bennett had danced and gotten called for excessive celebration. The receiver who caught the crucial touchdown had shown his freshman immaturity and done something to draw the ire of the officials. A chance to win the game in regulation was squandered by a player not controlling his emotions. Then ESPN2 showed the replay. The officials were apparently trained by this guy.

After Bennett’s footloose moment, Hahnfeldt would make the extra point, and Vanderbilt stopped Florida’s last drive. The Commodores would then score first in overtime before the Gators scored on their 2 straight drives. Unfortunately, Jay Cutler’s first pass of 2OT would be picked off to end the upset bid.

Now, Vanderbilt may not have scored on the 2PT Conversion attempt and lost anyway. It does not matter. Earl Bennett’s shoulder shrug and chest bump is the least celebrating I can imagine a player doing after scoring such an important touchdown against a highly ranked opponent. I wish the ref had to explain what was excessive about the celebration. It probably has something to do with the jersey Earl was wearing.

By the way, this is my second memory of Vanderbilt athletics. The first will appear in this space tomorrow. I am sure this moment means different things depending on a person’s stage of Vanderbilt fandom when it happened. For me, it was a crushing announcement of reality. The Commodores are doomed to always screw it up or get screwed. How am I still the Sunshine Pumper President? I guess I just need a reason to dance like Earl.

(3) 13 MTSU Men on the Field Blocked FG, 2005

This one hurts too much to put into my own words, so I’ll just paste in FiveStarDore’s 2016 Fanpost on the subject, and then scream into a pillow:

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 15 years, and we are still really pissed about it.


This one hurt. Bad.


Which moment advances?

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    Earl Bennett
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  • 39%
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