KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Before Tennessee finished manhandling Missouri 63-37 on Saturday, the Volunteers’ SEC Championship hopes had already been dashed.
Earlier in the afternoon, Florida upset LSU 16-10 with a goal-line stand to win its second-straight East Division title.
When the news hit Neyland Stadium — with nearly everyone on their phones watching a game over 600 miles away — a collective groan roared in East Tennessee.
“I just found out what exactly happened (after the game), but I knew on the sideline that when they stopped showing the score up there that something had gone wrong,” left tackle Brett Kendrick said on when he learned about Florida’s win.
“I knew something was up. I kept looking up there, and I said, ‘You know, the score is gone. They’re not showing it anymore. That can’t be a good thing.’ It’s tough. We’re not going to hang our heads though.”
Kendrick even expressed a moment of frustration on the sideline before a senior teammate scolded him on to only focus on the game.
“I said one thing about it and I thought I was going to get kicked off the team,” Kendrick said, smiling.
“I was talking to Dylan Wiesman and I said, ‘Man, I can’t believe that.’ And he got after me. So I just cut it off there.”
Ultimately, Tennessee’s home finale Saturday was bittersweet, as the Volunteers lit up the scoreboard while also seeing their championship dreams this season go up in smoke, too.
While Kendrick knew the result during the game, coach Butch Jones told CBS reporter Allie LaForce he didn’t find out Florida won until halftime. Other players didn’t know until after the game.
“It is what it is,” sophomore tailback John Kelly said.
“I guess they pulled out a tough win. We still have something to play for.”
Sophomore linebacker Darrin Kirkland echoed similar sentiments, saying, “We were disappointed. You always want to play for SEC Championships in this league. But it is what it is. We’re fighting for a 10-win season, something that hasn’t been done here in a long time, so we’re focused on that.”
Most assumed Florida would lose Saturday — the Gators were more than two-touchdown underdogs against the Tigers — and Tennessee (8-3, 4-3 SEC) would be positioned for a win-and-it’s-in scenario at Vanderbilt next Saturday.
However, despite beating UF head-to-head, Tennessee’s no-show at South Carolina loomed large in the final standings.
“We’re disappointed, but we still have a lot to play for,” Kendrick said.
“Big game coming up next week versus Vandy. A huge rivalry game. We’re playing for a good bowl game now and a 10-win season, so there’s still a lot left out there for us. We’re not going to hang our heads.”