It's a real bad end to a real bad season ... Our biggest fears were realized.''
UT coach Derek Dooley
LEXINGTON, Ky. — A team teetering toward a train wreck found one Saturday. Given the state of Tennessee football, maybe it was inevitable.
"It's a real bad end to a real bad season,'' UT coach Derek Dooley said in the bowels of Commonwealth Stadium.
Tennessee Stat Book
"Our biggest fears were realized.''
Outside, thousands of Kentucky fans were on the field, celebrating a 10-7 victory over the Vols.
But they were really celebrating so much more than that.
The longest annual rivalry winning streak — or losing streak from Kentucky's standpoint — in college football is over.
Since 1984, it's taken on its own uppercase title: The Streak. For whatever else turns out to be the legacy of the 2011 Vols, they are the team that let the 26-year domination of Kentucky end.
"It's tough,'' said senior linebacker Austin Johnson, fighting back tears. "I didn't want to go out like this.''
For the seniors like Johnson, Saturday was indeed their exit. At 5-7, 1-7 SEC, there will be no bowl game for the third time in seven years.
"You don't always get what you want,'' Dooley said, "but sometimes you get what you deserve.
"We're not a good football team. We don't deserve to get rewarded.''
An unlikely hero led the upset as an announced crowd of 59,855 watched in growing disbelief.
Receiver Matt Roark, who hadn't played quarterback since high school, went the distance for the Wildcats (5-7, 2-6). He rushed for 124 yards and attempted only six passes.
But it was enough. Kentucky led 10-0 until Tennessee finally got on the scoreboard via Tyler Bray's 53-yard pass to Rajion Neal with 12:52 to play.
The Vols got three more possessions but couldn't mount another threat. The final nail in The Streak's coffin was Bray throwing an interception to Taiedo Smith with 1:27 to play.
Bray, in his second game back from a five-game hiatus to heal a fractured thumb, was 15-of-38 passing for 215 yards. He was intercepted twice and sacked twice (once due to an intentional-grounding penalty).
"I played terrible,'' he said.
Bray was off-target on a number of throws. His first interception didn't prove costly.
It was, rather, a fumble and a non-fumble on which the game turned.
Kentucky was protecting a 3-0 lead well into the third quarter. Finally, Bray hit Neal for a 44-yard strike to the Kentucky 8.
But two plays later, a shotgun snap escaped Neal, who was lined up to take the direct snap, and Kentucky recovered at the 23.
From there, the Wildcats staged an eight-play drive for their only touchdown.
Twice Roark ran sweeps, once for 24 yards, then, on third-and-12, for 26 yards to the Tennessee 7.
On the latter, he lost the ball as he was tackled and UT's Ben Martin came up with it.
The official ruling was that Roark was down before the fumble, but Dooley challenged the call.
Replays appeared favorable to Dooley's challenge but the original ruling was confirmed. No fumble.
Two plays later, CoShik Williams scored on a 6-yard run and it was 10-0.
Tennessee needed only three plays to make it 10-7 but they couldn't get anything going on their subsequent three possessions.
UT managed only 276 yards of offense, including 61 from another underwhelming rushing attack.
"We just never really put it together,'' Dooley said. "The result was a losing season and no bowl bid.
"It's something that shouldn't happen at Tennessee and, hopefully, it won't happen again for a long time.''
Kentucky, which went into the week with quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton battling injuries, ended up with 217 yards of offense and only 10 first downs.
Roark, a senior receiver from Acworth, Ga., didn't even warm up at quarterback before the game. But he came out for the first snap and led Kentucky into position for a 24-yard Craig McIntosh field goal that would prove to be crucial.
"I never expected to do anything like that,'' said Roark. "Not the part of beating Tennessee, but the me quarterbacking part.''
Tennessee's only threat in the first half reached the Kentucky 28 but ended when Michael Palardy's 45-yard field goal try was blocked.
"What an amazing game,'' said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips. "How many — if we lined up the last 26 years — how many quarterbacks have we had, probably 15?
"Who would pick out Matt Roark as the guy who broke the streak?''
Tennessee will remember Roark's name for a long time to come.
"You certainly don't want it (to end) on your watch,'' Dooley said. "But it happened and the only thing we can do is start another one.''
Dooley credited Kentucky for playing "a lot more inspired football" than Tennessee did.
At least one Vol said it had not been an inspired week of practice since Tennessee squeaked by Vanderbilt in overtime last week for its first SEC win of the season.
"We're not very good, guys,'' Dooley said, "and I've been saying that all year.
"We were kind of headed this direction all along and just couldn't avoid it.''
Now they can't avoid thinking about it all the way until September.