A year ago, Jarrett Guarantano and his teammates were left with a bitter taste in their mouths as Tennessee dropped its final two games of the season.
The Vols would go on to miss a postseason birth for the second consecutive season despite UT riding a two-game win streak heading into home stretch.
That same narrative did not carry over into 2019.
Jarrett Guarantano went 23-of-40 for a career-high 415 yards and two touchdowns through the air and Josh Palmer tallied six receptions for 124 yards as Tennessee overcame Missouri 24-20 in Columbia on Saturday.
Jauan Jennings also recorded five receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown while Marquez Callaway lobbed six catches for 110 yards and a score.
It marked the first game in which UT’s leading receivers each went for over 100 yards this season as the Vols notched their fourth consecutive win, becoming bowl eligible for the first time under Jeremy Pruitt.
While certainly not the prettiest game of football Tennessee (6-5, 4-3 SEC) has played this year, it was enough to get the job done when it mattered.
The Vols had not beaten Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC) since 2016 in Knoxville. Their last two defeats at the hands of the Tigers were by a combined margin of 100-34. That all changed on Saturday.
Despite not recording its first score until the second period, UT remained ahead for the majority of the final three quarters of action.
Following Quavaris Crouch’s one-yard touchdown run to start the second, however, the majority of the damage Tennessee inflicted on offense was done so through the air.
For Guarantano, it meant another opportunity to prove his worth, and the redshirt junior once again delivered.
After coming off the bench for the previous six games, the Lodi, New Jersey native earned the starting nod on Saturday at the urging of Pruitt, who felt he game then the best chance to check at the line of scrimmage.
“Hey, we’ve got confidence in him, he’s got everything you need to be a good quarterback,” Pruitt said. “And tonight was far and away his best game (of the year).”
Guarantano wasn’t the only veteran presence to step up for Tennessee when it mattered most.
Senior linebacker Daniel Bituli, who has spearheaded the Vols’ on defense during the second half of the season, notched 12 tackles and a sack as UT’s defense held off Missouri on its final drive to preserve the win.
Much like they did in Lexington two weeks ago, Tennessee’s defense made plays when the stakes were highest.
The Vols outgained the Tigers 526-280 in total offense and had three receivers each top 100 yards for the first time in program history.
But for Guarantano, the on-the-field results were the last thing on his mind in the locker room.
After a long season that has had its share of ups and downs, the redshirt junior quarterback’s focus was on his teammates, all of whom supported him during a tumultuous time.
“They were all there for me and it really meant a lot. There were some hectic times for me,” Guarantano said. “And they were there for me every step of the way, like I was for them in the past.”
In the end, he hopes that his career-best effort on Saturday was enough to compensate them.
“I hope I’m able to pay them back the way I did tonight.”