Daniel Bituli eventually jogged back to the other end of the field and joined the Tennessee defense as it prepared to stop South Carolina on the goal line for a third straight time.
But what if the whistle was never blown? What if Bituli, the Volunteers’ middle linebacker, was credited with, first, a fumble recovery and, then, a 99-yard return for a touchdown?
Did the Gamecocks catch a big break en route to their 27-24 win on Saturday?
USC was trailing by eight points late in the third quarter when Rico Dowdle was stuffed on second-and-goal from the UT 1. Eventually emerging from a pile of white and black jerseys was Bituli with a football in hand. He didn’t stop until he reached the end zone.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“It was a fumble,” said Tennessee nose tackle Shy Tuttle. “(Dowdle) went down, he was on top of some offensive linemen.”
But no fumble was recorded, only a half-tackle credited to Bituli and fellow ‘backer Darrin Kirkland Jr.
“I felt like I punched the ball out,” Kirkland Jr. said. “We just didn’t get the call to go our way. We just got to keep playing football.”
Tuttle said the entire Tennessee sideline, including head coach Jermey Pruitt, felt a review of the play was in progress shortly after it was blown dead.
“We thought they were watching it,” Tuttle said. “(Pruitt) thought so, too. He was screaming at the refs.”
But things carried on as normal. South Carolina scored on the very next play via a Ty’Son Williams 1-yard blast. A 2-point conversion later and the Gamecocks and Vols were tied at 24.
The lack of review had social media buzzing.
Pruitt wasn’t asked about the play. He only applauded South Carolina making the necessary moves to pull off a close win.
“The team that really made the fewest mistakes won,” Pruitt said. “They did a good job of being resilient, finding a way and we didn’t. So you got to give those guys credit. Coach (Will) Muschamp does a really good job. B-Mac (Bryan McClendon), T-Rob (Travaris Robinson) have done a really good job.”
“So give those guys credit.”