Tennessee vs. Ole Miss game stopped as fans pelt field, hitting head coach

Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin was among those hit by debris thrown by fans angry at a controversial referee call during Saturday's game against Tennessee

Lane Kiffin, head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels football team, was hit with a projectile thrown by one of the many angry Tennessee Volunteers fans who pelted the field with litter during Saturday’s game following a controversial late-game referee decision.

Kiffin, who head coached at Tennessee during the 2008-2009 season, told ESPN that he expected emotions to be running high among spectators during his first return to Neyland Stadium as head coach of Ole Miss — though the possibility of being hit with debris never entered his mind.

Head coach Lane Kiffin of the Mississippi Rebels reacts against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first half at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 02, 2021 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“It’s an emotional game and fans are emotional, but you never expect something like that, to see all that stuff come flying out of the stands,” Kiffin said. “I got hit with a golf ball, but at least whoever threw it was smart enough to throw a dirty range ball.”

The referee call that had fans up in arms came with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, as Tennessee junior tight end Jacob Warren pulled in a 24-yard pass from quarterback Hendon Hooker on a fourth-and-24 play — yet was ruled just short of a first down that could have given the Volunteers a chance to make a game-winning play.

After replay officials upheld the call on the field, fans, livid at the decision, began showering the field with bottles, plastic, glass and more according to ESPN, hitting several Ole Miss cheerleaders as well as Kiffin.

“There were a number of bottles with some brown stuff in them,” Kiffin told ESPN. “I’m not sure what it was. It probably wasn’t moonshine. They probably wouldn’t waste moonshine on me.”

The chaos led to a game stoppage lasting around 20 minutes, after which Ole Miss quickly surrendered possession of the ball with a quick three-and-out, giving Tennessee another chance to score and win the game.

Following a 40-yard punt return from Tenessee’s Velus Jones Jr., the Vols got the ball back at the Ole Miss 47-yard-line — but the drive began with Hooker sustaining an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the game and backup Joe Milton III led the team within eight yards of the goal line but was pushed out of bounds to seal the game.

University of Tennessee and Southeastern Conference (SEC) officials alike condemned fans’ actions following the game.

“I am astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight’s game,” tweeted UT Chancellor Donde Plowman. “Good sportsmanship must be part of who we are as Volunteers. Behavior that puts student-athletes, visitors and other fans at risk is not something we will tolerate.”

Plowman continued that she would consult fellow university leaders to discuss ways to make the situation right, adding that “Neyland Stadium has always been a place for families, and we will keep it that way.”

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement calling fans’ actions “unacceptable under any circumstances.”

“We are accustomed to intense competition every week, but under no circumstance is it acceptable to endanger the contest participants and disrupt a game,” Sankey said.

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