NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For North Carolina, the crazy finish to the Music City Bowl was just another twist in a trying season that ended on a high note.
Tennessee had a much different viewpoint, and an all-too-familiar feeling.
Casey Barth kicked a 23-yard field goal in the second overtime to send North Carolina past Tennessee 30-27 in a game that will be remembered much more for the crazy finish of regulation than how it ended Thursday night.
The Volunteers thought they had capped coach Derek Dooley's first season in Knoxville with a dramatic victory when the officials told them to return to the sideline and gave the Tar Heels one last chance to tie it in the fourth quarter.
"I've been involved in coaching for 37 years," North Carolina coach Butch Davis said. "And when you stand on the sidelines, you get an opportunity to see an awful lot of bizarre things happen in a coaching career. This is going to have to be one of those games that I think ESPN Classic will probably be showing this 100 years from now."
Barth kicked a 39-yard field goal after officials reviewed what had been the final play of the game and decided to penalize the Tar Heels (8-5) for having "more than 11 men" on the field. The Big Ten officiating crew also announced T.J. Yates had spiked the ball with 1 second left.
That allowed Barth to run out and kick the field goal that tied it at 20.
Barth's winning kick in the second overtime completed a season marred by an NCAA investigation into agent-related benefits and academic misconduct that eventually forced 14 Tar Heels to miss at least one game. Seven missed the entire season.
"It takes all of the NCAA violations away," North Carolina cornerback Kendric Burney said. "All of the trouble went away."
Tar Heels tight end Ryan Taylor said it's never over with this team.
"It was perfect for us to end this crazy season in a double-overtime game," Taylor said.
Tennessee (6-7) was stunned at the sudden switch in the final seconds. Tyler Bray threw a 25-yard TD in the first overtime, but Quan Sturdivant picked him off to end the Vols' last chance in the second OT.
It was the second time this season that a flag for too many men on the field played a role in a Tennessee loss. The Vols lost to LSU on Oct. 2 when they got caught having too many defenders, giving the Tigers another chance to pull out a 16-14 win. Dooley said it was "chaos again."
"I had a sick feeling when that thing hit zero because I've been there. I didn't celebrate this time," Dooley said.
His Vols were celebrating. Just like LSU, a case of painful deja vu, officials told them it wasn't over yet.
"The referee says it's over, and they go back and review it and it is not," Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker said. "It is tough to deal with."
This will hurt much more. Vols defensive end Chris Walker, his eyes filled with tears after trying to compose himself, said most teams never have this happen to them. Now it's happened to the Vols twice in a year.
"It is just tough to swallow," Walker said.
Tennessee had the home-field advantage with LP Field painted orange from top to bottom, and the Vols' fans had been celebrating ever since Bray's 8-yard TD pass to Justin Hunter put them up 20-17 with 5:16 left.
But Donte Paige-Moss blocked Daniel Lincoln's extra point, and that provided the edge North Carolina needed to force overtime with Barth's second field goal. Paige-Moss already had a bloody nose and puffy face after his helmet came off sacking Bray and teammate Quinton Coples' helmet smashed into his head.
"We could have just easily did an extra point and just went through the motions," Paige-Moss said. "But by me doing what I do always in practice by getting my hands up, we was able to kick a field goal to tie it up and win it in overtime."
Tennessee had a chance to clinch the victory when the Vols got the ball back with 1:36 left but punted it back to North Carolina with 31 seconds remaining to set up the bizarre finish.
Everyone was on the field after the clock appeared to run out when North Carolina got caught — and flagged — with too many men on the field. A handful of Tar Heels were running toward the sideline when Yates took the snap and spiked the ball with the holder behind him as if preparing for a field-goal attempt.
Davis took the blame for the confusion. He said the offensive players were doing what they'd been told a couple plays before, while the field-goal unit started running out.
The Vols celebrated with the Tar Heels dejected. Officials suddenly announced that the end was under review. They announced the replay showed North Carolina had "more than 11" players on the field for a 5-yard penalty. But they said Yates had spiked the ball with 1 second remaining.
Dooley noted college football doesn't have the NFL rule that would have run out the clock to punish the offense for the penalty. Davis, who coached the Cleveland Browns for four seasons and won two Super Bowls as an assistant in Dallas, said, "Our game isn't the NFL."
Barth ran out and kicked the field goal to force overtime.
Angry fans began tossing bottles and other trash onto the field. Tennessee defensive end Gerald Williams chucked his helmet in disgust, bouncing it down the field. Officials threw yet another flag, this one for unsportsmanlike conduct.
That set North Carolina up in the first overtime at the Tennessee 12, and Yates scored on a 1-yard keeper to put the Tar Heels up 27-20.
Bray answered almost immediately. He found Luke Stocker with a 25-yard TD on the very next play. This time, Lincoln kicked the extra point to tie it.
North Carolina chose to go on defense in the second overtime. Sturdivant intercepted Bray on second-and-9 to give the Tar Heels a chance at victory.
The Tar Heels intercepted Bray three times and finished with four sacks. North Carolina also held Tennessee to 27 yards rushing on 29 attempts, outgaining the Vols 385-339 in total offense. Shaun Draughn ran for 160 yards and a TD, and Yates threw for 234 yards and a score.
Yates scored on a 1-yard keeper for North Carolina in the first overtime, and Draughn helped moved the Tar Heels down to the Vols 6. Davis ran Barth out for the winning field goal to spark a North Carolina celebration while a couple of Vols slumped to the field in disbelief.