KNOXVILLE — As happens sometimes with Tennessee's free-spirit quarterback, Tyler Bray's game plan for beating Kentucky may have been a tad bit different than interim coach Jim Chaney's version.
"I threw the first [touchdown of the game] to [senior] Zach [Rogers] and said, 'OK, you're done,'" Bray recalled after the Volunteers' 37-17 season-ending win over the Wildcats.
"Then I threw the second [senior touchdown] to Mychal [Rivera] and I looked at Zach and held up two fingers and said, 'I'm good. Now we've got to get Bart [fullback Ben Bartholomew] some carries.'"
Call it the Senior Send-Off. And while it certainly needed to include a victory, Bray also wanted it to include plenty of senior highlights for a 13-member graduating class that hasn't seen a lot of them.
"With everything that was happening off the field and everybody talking about Coach [Derek] Dooley getting fired, we just had to pull together," senior offensive lineman Dallas Thomas said. "It's all out in the open now [the coaching change], so now we could just play football like we did today."
How special was the Kentucky game for this senior class that suffered through three straight losing seasons to close out their careers? Both Rivera and Rogers caught touchdowns. Bartholomew, who hadn't had a carry all season, toted the ball twice for 10 yards. Senior defenders Prentiss Waggner and Herman Lathers finished with seven and six total tackles, respectively.
"They were very good with me all week, the 13 kids who were playing their final game," Chaney said. "This team gathered around one another to get a victory for Tennessee and the senior class. I'm pretty pleased that that happened."
It certainly happened under the oddest of circumstances. In what some dubbed the "Unemployment Bowl," both UK and UT took the field with what Chaney described as "lame-duck staffs," since UK coach Joker Phillips was axed a couple of weeks before Dooley.
"Guys, it's just you versus their 11," Chaney told them. "You don't have to worry about some guy on the sideline. Today was the purest form of players versus players you can find."
Bartholomew and the other Vols seniors certainly appreciated Chaney's perspective.
"All of the seniors have been through a little adversity," he said. "We just want the younger guys to focus on Tennessee and not anything else."
"It's taught us about life," Rivera said. "It isn't easy. You're going to have to overcome things that aren't in your plans and get over it."
Perhaps it should have been different. But senior linebacker Herman Lathers also saw a bright spot.
"My character has grown," he said. "I'm anxious to see what the real world has for me."
Hopefully nothing tougher than he and his classmates have experienced so far.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...