Down by one with three seconds left, 95,736 orange and white-clad fans held their breath and watched in silence as senior kicker Michael Palardy lined up the game-winning field goal from 19 yards out.
Two weeks after the Volunteer faithful were emotionally devastated following a defeat at the hands of Georgia in overtime, they were given something to cheer about as Palardy's kick sailed through the uprights and the Vols came away with a 23-21 victory over the No. 11 South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
"It meant everything to me," Palardy said. "It's been a long time coming. I want to give it up to the offense and defense for putting me in that position. I couldn't have done it without the plays that they made.
"The biggest thing for me was coming back from my missed field goal earlier in the game, and just maintaining that focus. I tried my best to just maintain my composure and take it one kick at a time."
The Coral Springs, Fla. native may not have been put in that situation without the efforts of true freshman Marquez North, who made the highlight play of the game on the final drive as he reeled in a circus-like, one-handed catch on a third-and-10 that went for 39 yards and put UT in field goal position.
North finished the day with 102 yards on three catches, making him the first receiver for the Vols to eclipse the 100-yard mark since Justin Hunter and Mychal Rivera achieved it in the same game against Missouri on Nov. 10 last season.
"We knew the situation the game was," sophomore wide receiver Pig Howard said. "We saw time on the clock, and we knew we needed to make a play. It was just fortunate that Marquez ended up making a big play.
"We hit a couple of bumps at the beginning of the quarter, and I told him just keep your head right and stay focused. That's one thing I can say, he is a very mature freshman. He stayed positive and he made the play for us."
Defensively, the Vols were huge as they didn't allow the Gamecocks to convert a single first down in the fourth quarter and came up with a clutch three-and-out to get the UT offense the ball with 2:48 remaining.
"We felt good," senior defensive lineman Daniel Hood said. "We had played well during the first, second, and start of the fourth quarter. We knew what we had to do. We knew what plays they were going to run. We had to go out there and execute our defense. We forced them into a big play situation, and they couldn't convert."
The victory is UT's first against a ranked opponent since Oct. 31, 2009 when the Vols beat South Carolina. Since then, the Vols had lost 19-straight games to top 25 foes. For the UT seniors, the win is their first against ranked opposition.
"We needed that badly... desperately," senior running back Rajion Neal said. "It's been a long time and that's something that I think is going to jump start and push us in the right direction."