Three hundred seventy-seven days have passed since Tennessee entered Tiger Stadium as a 16-1/2-point underdog, took a late four-point lead against the Tigers and, as the clock hit triple zeroes, began to celebrate what appeared to be a signature win.
With time running out, LSU center T-Bob Hebert snapped the ball past quarterback Jordan Jefferson, seemingly sealing the upset.
Problem was, the Volunteers were caught with 13 players on the field, prompting a flag for illegal participation. On an untimed down, Stevan Ridley scored from the 1 for a 16-14 victory.
“I think the whole world thought we had won the game,” Tennessee safety Prentiss Waggner said.
The Volunteers, this time a 16-point underdog, get another crack at LSU, this time sporting a No. 1 ranking, when they welcome the Tigers to Neyland Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. game.
Last year’s ending remains fresh in their minds.
“I thought it was over,” Tennessee offensive tackle Dallas Thomas said. “But you know what happened at the end. You know how that went.”
Thomas and Waggner, maybe more than any Tennessee players who take the field Saturday afternoon, would love to help the Volunteers pull off an upset of LSU that sticks.
Thomas bounced around Baton Rouge as a high-school star, playing for Broadmoor and Istrouma before finishing at Scotlandville his senior year. Waggner started at Clinton High for four years, making the Class 2A all-state team as a junior and senior.
Last year, when Tennessee visited LSU for the first time since 2005, Thomas and Waggner both had enough friends and family on hand to fill a theater-style college classroom.
Even though the game is in Knoxville this year, Waggner said playing the Tigers still has a special vibe.
“It’s been a fun week,” Waggner said. “I’ve been getting a lot of text messages and phone calls from friends and former classmates from back home that now go to LSU. There’s been a little pregame trash talk.”
Thomas said he’s trying to treat it like any other game.
“I’m ready to go,” Thomas said. “But I’m always fired up - no matter who we’re playing.”
Thomas and Waggner have more in common than where they come from.
Both players signed with Tennessee in 2008 and took redshirts their first year on campus. Both players cracked the starting lineup, together, when the Volunteers opened their sophomore season against Tennessee-Martin.
Both players have started 18 straight games, Thomas at left tackle and Waggner at cornerback and safety.
Both players were recruited to Tennessee by then-defensive coordinator John Chavis, who returns to Knoxville this weekend wearing purple and gold.
“I fell in love with coach Chavis when he came down to see me,” Thomas said.
“Now, he’s at LSU. That’s kind of funny.”
Thomas, who picked Tennessee over Ole Miss after twice earning All-Metro recognition, has grown into a 6-foot-5, 305-pound staple on the offensive line. He left Scotlandville in 2008 weighing 265 pounds.
But when he talks about how Thomas has blossomed, Waggner said it isn’t his teammate’s physical growth that stands out.
“It’s been exciting to see Dallas step up and be a leader,” Waggner said.
Waggner, 6-2, 185 pounds, earned second-team All-SEC honors last year despite transitioning from cornerback to safety in mid-season.
Credit his nose for big plays.
Waggner intercepted five passes in 2010, returning a school-record three for scores. His five picks, combined with three fumble recoveries, gave him more total takeaways than any Tennessee defender since Deon Grant in 1999.
This year, his first as a full-time safety, Waggner ranks second on the team with 26 tackles.
He hopes the good times continue Saturday when LSU comes calling.
Waggner got off to a rocky start against the Tigers last year, allowing Jefferson to break through the secondary for an 82-yard touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage. By day’s end, however, he had put together one of his best games.
He made a season-high nine tackles. His key pass breakup in the Tennessee red zone forced LSU to settle for a fourth-quarter field goal.
“I knew there was a lot of football left to be played,” he said.
More than anyone could have imagined.
In the end, chaos reigned.
LSU, with the ball at Tennessee’s goal line and time running out, sent three receivers into the game. Tennessee subbed Waggner and three teammates, looking to get out of its goal-line defense and back into a base package.
The snap sailed past Jefferson, but Tennessee had too many men on the field.
The Tigers got a mulligan.
“It was a big roller-coaster at the end,” Waggner said. “Quite a memory.”
Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers, another former Scotlandville High standout, continues to be sidelined because of an ankle injury. Lathers has not played in 2011 after making 17 starts as a freshman and sophomore.