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NASHVILLE — Jaylen Wright lifted himself off the beaten-up turf at Nissan Stadium on Thursday night.
The Tennessee football running back propped himself onto his right knee, rose to his feet and started to signal touchdown. Then he did it with more conviction, pleading for the outcome to be in the Vols’ favor.
It wasn’t then and it wasn’t minutes later after an official review. Wright was ruled short of the goal line on fourth down on Tennessee’s lone overtime possession in its 48-45 loss to Purdue in the Music City Bowl.
“They said the forward progress had been stopped,” Vols coach Josh Heupel said. “I don’t (know). It sounded like the whistle blew after he extended the football.”
Tennessee’s season ended with the fourth-down stop and Purdue’s field goal on its lone overtime possession following the contested call.
Wright bounced off the first hit from a Purdue defender in the backfield. He was met at the goal line by a pair of Purdue defenders. Tight end Princeton Fant pulled Wright toward the goal line and the running back extended the ball into the end zone. Replay indicated the line judge did not whistle the play dead until after Wright reached the ball for a touchdown. Officials were not made available following the game despite a request from Knox News.
“Initially, I was excited,” quarterback Hendon Hooker said. “I thought we scored. It was a tough call. I felt like me and my teammates gave it our all. The outcome didn’t end how we wanted it to.”
Heupel was aggressive in overtime, going for it twice on fourth down. Hooker converted the first, scrambling free from pressure in the backfield and escaping to the sideline. The first-year Vols coach gambled again at the 2-yard line.
Wide receivers JaVonta Payton and Cedric Tillman sprinted off the field. Offensive lineman Jeremiah Crawford and defensive lineman Omari Thomas entered.
Hooker went under center — a rarity in Heupel’s offense. Fant lined up behind Hooker with Thomas to his right. Wright, who was in the game because starter Jabari Small was banged up, according to Heupel, was hit in the backfield by Purdue safety Chris Jefferson.
Wright cut to his right, where Boilermakers cornerback Jamari Brown and linebacker Kieren Douglas waited. Wright landed on top of Douglas. Brown pulled him away from the end zone, while Fant pulled him toward it.
Wright stretched for the end zone, putting the ball on the ground across the goal line. Purdue players celebrated the stop. Tennessee players signaled touchdown.
Heupel spoke with the head linesman, who indicated that Wright’s forward progress was stopped. Heupel appeared to offer colorful language in response before turning around to walk away.
Offensive lineman Cooper Mays celebrated with Wright as a replay on the stadium scoreboard suggested a possible touchdown. Hooker ran to Wright to high-five the freshman.
Heupel saw the replay and turned back to the official, arguing that Wright was not down. Moments later, the head linesman told Heupel was the stadium was about to hear: The call was confirmed.
Heupel leaned his head back in frustration with the ruling before trying to rally the defense for one more stop.
“I love these guys,” Heupel said. “They fight. They scratch. They claw. They compete. Shoot, it was a great competitive environment in there tonight. Ended up a play short.”