Shaud Williams sat alone a few feet away as Caleb Miller finished the last of his interviews. The only giveaway that he didn't belong in the Arkansas locker room was the "Alabama" on his crimson red warmups, the same color as the ones Miller and Tony Bua, the last of the Arkansas players, were donning.
"Can I borrow your pen, and a piece of paper, please," Williams said. "I want to get Caleb's and Tony's phone number to call them later. I want to keep up with them during the season."
Houston Nutt emerged from his dressing room, headed outside to meet with his family.
"Coach, that's Shaud Williams," a reporter pointed out. "Do you ever recall an opposing player coming to your locker room?"
The Arkansas head coach did a double take, then recognized Williams chatting with Miller, once his blocking back in the Texas high school all-star game.
"I've never seen that, NEVER!" Nutt said. "Class, class, class. You know that's what you've got in Shaud Williams, class."
Miller asked the lone remaining reporter for a moment alone with Williams as the Alabama tailback returned his notepad and pen. Bua joined them with a question for Williams.
"How fast are you, man?" Bua said.
"Probably about 4.4, I guess," Williams said.
"Figures," Bua said. "My best is about a 4.5. You were leaving me."
Bua went back to his locker where he visited again with a reporter.
"That guy is something else, to come in here to shake our hands after losing a game like that," Bua said. "It was a great game. I love to play against someone like that, all class. You hit him and get him down somehow and then pick him back up. He does the same for you if he's up first. It was like that all night. Just a war, true competition."
Even when the Hogs were down 31-10 when Alabama landed a 21-point salvo in its first eight plays of the third quarter, the Hogs felt like they were still in that war.
"Richard Smith came to me on the sideline and said, ‘Matt, I didn't come down here to lose,' " said Matt Jones. "Most would have thought it was over, but it wasn't just Richard. Everyone was still in it and wanting to keep fighting. I think we stayed together as a team to make that comeback."
It came down to Chris Balseiro's 19-yard field goal at the end of the second overtime after the Hogs' offensive line blocked the Tide's battered defense back to the 3-yard line. But before Balseiro could end the game, there was a little strategy from the Arkansas sideline which outsmarted a rookie coach on the other sideline.
"We sent out our field goal team on third down because we wanted them to use their last timeout," said Houston Nutt.
David Shula did just that. The Hogs sent their offense back to the field for one more play and a centering run to get the ball exactly on the stripe where extra points are snapped at the 3-yard line. Balseiro and the field goal team sprinted on and he quickly booted the ball through the middle of the uprights.
It was Balseiro's first game-winning experience and came after he took over in the first half for a struggling David Carlton. Balseiro, sophomore squadman, handled kickoffs in the season opener with Carlton on the mend from a sprained ankle sustained in a pickup hoops game.
Carlton had missed one kick against Texas and two early tries against Alabama. Balseiro booted a 33-yarder late in the second quarter, then repeated it from 38 yards when the Hogs were penalized for illegal procedure.
"I kinda felt like I'd get an opportunity when David missed the second one," said Balseiro. "I did okay in warmups ... seven of 10. I felt calm and relaxed on every kick today. I really got some confidence after I kicked the second one after the penalty. That really helped.
"That's the first time for me (to kick a game winner) and that is what I've practiced for and thought in my dreams. It's as good as you can ever imagine to actually do it.
"I had a lot of support from my teammates and Brennan O'Donohoe came to me on the sideline just before I went out to say a prayer. That relaxed me and made me confident. Dowell Loggains, our holder, helped, too. But I really didn't want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to kick it and end the game."
Arkansas had to score three straight touchdowns to force the overtime and didn't get the last one until only 27 seconds remained in regulation. Jones hit Smith with a bootleg pass for the final 3 yards, finding him wide open in the back of the end zone.
"I just wanted to throw it where only he could get to it," Jones said. "Richard did a great job of getting free."
That ended a 12-play, 71-yard march that featured plenty of intense blocking by the Hogs' wonderful offensive line and two key passes from Jones. He hit Jason Peters with a 21-yarder to start the drive and converted a fourth-and-4 with a 7-yard strike to Steven Harris on a tightly-covered slant.
The Hogs went first in the first overtime and came up empty when Jones lost 18 yards on a grounding penalty, then was intercepted in the end zone on a desperation heave on fourth-and-25 from the 40. When Bama's defensive backs were penalized for celebration, Bama had to start from the 40 (instead of the 25). Bama did make one first down, but Brian Bostick's 38-yard field goal drifted wide left by about two yards.
Bama went first to open the second OT. Jimarr Gallon intercepted Brodie Croyle on the first play. At that point, Nutt turned things over to the offensive line. Eight plays later, Balseiro booted the 19-yarder to end the game.
"We had some guys who refused to quit," Nutt said. "They could easily have said ‘that's it' when it was 31-10. There were some heroes tonight. It's a tough place to play and we had them at their best and we knew that. We had a lot of things to overcome.
"It was 31-10 and Shaud Williams was running wild and I'm thinking, ‘Oh, no, here we go again.' It was pretty gloomy. At 31-17, we got a little confidence. When we scored the one to make it 31-24 the players said, ‘We're going to win this.' It's just perseverance and character."
Tony Bua was upset that the Hogs had dug such a deep hole and blamed himself for part of it.
"I'm just so glad that Cedric Cobbs and that offensive line ... I call them the War Hogs ... bailed us out," Bua said. "I just thought that if we didn't give them any more big plays that our offense might get those points back. We had a lot of time. We just had to keep getting the ball back for the War Hogs.
"Those guys up front ... Shawn Andrews, Mark Bokermann, Dan Doughty, Jerry Reith, Bo Lacy, Jason Peters, Jared Hicks and the two fullbacks, Mark Pierce and Brandon Kennedy ... they are true warriors. With them, it's a war, hand-to-hand combat and physical. I see them in practice. I know how good they are and how it wears out the other team. You saw that in this game."
Bua thought that Cobbs might have been the best player on the field. The senior tailback ran it 36 times for 198 yards with a long of 22. He had no lost-yardage plays. Shaud Williams made 135 on 19, but minus his 80-yard gallop, just 58 on his other 18 tries.
"I was just glad that we had a team good enough to face adversity and comeback to get a victory," Cobbs said. "That's what this game was all about, hanging in there in the face of adversity.
"When I lost that fumble (for the Hogs first in over 600 carries), I didn't think I could have ever forgiven myself if we hadn't come back. I kept praying that it wouldn't be why we lost. I think the way we played says a statement that we have a true team ... great special teams, offense and defense. We had everyone doing things right ... line, receivers, quarterbacks making the right decisions. It's a great victory."
Offensive line coach Mike Markuson praised Cobbs for "running tough" and thought his men up front were solid, too.
"We did some good things out there," Markuson said. "Shawn was really good, and Bo Lacy, he jumped a few times, but he blocked a great player pretty well at times. We ran over there behind Bo and Jerry a lot today. Antwan Odom is an All-American and we ran right at him at times behind Bo. He didn't block him every time, but he's an amazing athlete and you aren't going to get him some times. But I thought Bo did great."
Indeed, Lacy was the last man standing. Odom limped off the field in the second overtime.
Danny Nutt, the Hogs' offensive backfield coach, loved the holes he saw up front.
"Those guys were great," Nutt said. "We saw on film some things we thought we could do with them and it was the inside zone. It was there pretty much all day. We put in some things Wednesday that helped us on the goal line, too."
That would be something big in the backfield, 350-pound fullback Shawn Andrews.
"We call it our Fridge Package," Nutt said. "That's the formation and we put big (Zac) Tubbs in there at tackle. We gave it to Mark Pierce and he did a smart thing. He saw everyone fly to where Shawn was going and Mark just walked in on the outside."
Markuson said, "We looked at it practice and thought we could run the iso(lation) on the goal line. We thought Shawn would just buckle the linebacker. He didn't have to because they massed everyone there and Mark had it easy."
It wasn't all easy. The Hogs made a lot of yards in the first half, but only 10 points. Carlton missed from 32 and 38 yards, perhaps slipping a little in the sloshy conditions from a thunderstorm which delayed the start over one hour.
The Hogs also were penalized 11 times for 74 yards and had to use several timeouts because the play clock was running out.
"We couldn't hear because it was so loud and that caused a lot of those problems with the procedure penalties and the timeouts," Jones said. "It was really loud."
Defensively, the third quarter was a nightmare.
"I lined up wrong on the 80-yard run," Bua said. "That was on me. I saw a wing set and I was too far over. I missed that one.
"The long pass, that was a good call on their part. I had the tight end and he cracked down. I'm supposed to come up since we were in man and that was my man."
Dre Fulgham, the wideout, beat Eddie Jackson on the outside in a one-on-one move for the 71-yard touchdown pass.
The battered Hogs (Arrion Dixon, and Bo Mosley were out by then) sucked it up to put the clamps on Bama the rest of the way.
Dixon (sprained foot), Mosley (sprained knee) and George Wilson (sprained ankle) were the most serious of the injuries. Lawrence Richardson (ankle) did not play.
"With the open week, we should get a lot of them back," trainer Dean Weber said. "Richardson needs another week of rest to be full speed so this will help him. The others, the ones hurt today, we won't know for a few days."
Matt Jones looks for a receiver against Alabama.
Cedric Cobbs fights for tough yardage.
Cedric Cobbs finds some running room.
The Arkansas defense smothers a Bama ball carrier.
Photos by Tom Ewart
Arkansas 34, Alabama 31 (Final, 2 OTs)
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