Arkansas true freshman quarterback Matt Jones outdueled Eli Manning in college football's first seven-overtime game as the Hogs earned a stunning 58-56 victorySaturday night before a packed house at Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium. ESPN2 televised the game on national cable.
The Razorbacks, winners of four straight over SEC divisional leaders, won it when linebacker Jermaine Petty smacked down Ole Miss tight end Doug Ziegler two yards short of the goal line on the decisive two-point play.
Jones ran for an OT touchdown, passed for another and connected with freshman tailback Decori Birmingham for the winning two-point play in the seventh overtime. Jones ran for 110 yards. Fred Talley added 113 and Cedric Cobbs posted an even 100 to pace an Arkansas offense that produced 374 yards in regulation, and another 157 in overtime. Ole Miss had 292 in regulation, 165 in overtime.
Manning had trouble solving the UA defense in regulation, but passed for five touchdowns in OT and finished with six on the night.
Arkansas had a chance to win it at the end of the third overtime when Manning fumbled away the Ole Miss chance when Caleb Miller stripped him on a sack. However, Brennan O'Donohoe's 35-yard field goal was wide left.
"Neither one of those teams deserved to lose," said Houston Nutt, the Arkansas coach. "Both gave unbelievable efforts. I'm very proud of our players. They had a lot of fight in them and no quit. There are a lot of heroes in that locker room. They all hung in there three or four weeks ago when things weren't going so good."
Petty, the Hogs' stellar middle linebacker, said he was not assigned to Ziegler on the two-point play.
"But, Manning had been going to the tight end a lot in overtime and at the end of the game," Petty said. "I was yelling for us to watch the tight end. I was supposed to stay with the back … but he didn't come out and I just went to the outside to find the tight end. I don't know if he caught it or not. I just made sure he didn't get to the goal line and I don't think he was ever close to scoring.
"This was an awesome game. I'm so proud of our offense. We had so many guys on offense keep making plays. I wish we could have stopped Ole Miss earlier, but they have a great offense, too. But, if you look at what Matt Jones did, we deserved to win. He was special tonight. I'm so glad he's on my team."
Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said, "I'm not going to let this be a what-if game. It just happened to end like this. Somebody had to win and we will move forward from this unusal experience. This upcoming week is a good time for us to have an open week.
"I just want to congratulate the Arkansas team, and the players on both teams. All of these guys are tough-minded. I've never been through anything like this at the college level. This is what football is all about.
"Arkansas did a good job at keeping us from running the ball. They played outstanding defense. Our biggest problem was our third down conversions. On the final two-point play, Arkansas stopped the same play we won the Alabama game with. During the third and fourth overtime period, I was thinking, let's just blow the whistle (to call it a tie) and say, ‘boys, let's go to the house.' "
Jones, who topped 100 yards rushing along with Cedric Cobbs and Fred Talley, said he was excited throughout the overtime, and never really fatigued.
"It was a lot of fun, the way it was going on," he said. "It was an exciting game all the way. I don't know how many fourth downs we made, or who made them. As far as the passing, I didn't really know where my receivers were supposed to be. I don't know the routes. The coaches would review them, but I was just running around until I found someone. I'm still learning. My teammates played great."
Ole Miss scored on its first possession, and Arkansas scored on its last possession in a 7-7 opening half that was dominated by the defenses. The Rebels couldn't make two third-and-ones, and a third-and-two in the first half.
The Hogs outgained the Rebs, 187 to 107, in total yards, and owned a five-minute edge in time of possession. Ole Miss made only 27 yards on its 13 plays after its opening TD march.
Arkansas wore red pants for the first time this season. And, when it won the toss, elected to take the ball. The Hogs made one first down on their first try, then punted the Rebels back to their 20-yard line.
Eli Manning then engineered a flawless, 11-play, 80-yard touchdown march, absorbing a late hit for a roughing the passer penalty on perhaps the key play of the drive. That penalty came on a second-and-7 incomplete pass when Tony Bua plowed into Manning after his throw, the only one the sophomore quarterback would miss on that drive.
Manning completed his other three throws for 12, 19 and 5 yards. The Rebels faced only one third down in the drive, a third-and-2 that Joe Gunn converted with a 9-yard blast over left tackle. Gunn got the touchdown on a 1-yard dive over the pile, after the Hogs had stopped tailback Robert Williams short on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. It was 7-0 at 7:40 of the first quarter.
The Rebels went three-and-out on their next four possessions, starting from their 10, 10, 39 and 37. However, the Hogs could not take advantage of the solid field position they gained from that defensive consistency. Arkansas, trying both Zak Clark and Matt Jones at quarterback, moved the chains, but only modestly.
Arkansas' best chance in the first half came after the defense got the ball back for the offense at the UA 40-yard line. Fred Talley and Cedric Cobbs took turns at power running to move the Hogs to the UM 29 where a Cobbs sweeps produced 14 yards and a first down. Clark then threw behind covered tight end Nathan Ball (with Richard Smith breaking into the end zone behind the Rebel cornerback) and was intercepted by middle linebacker Kevin Thomas. It was the Hog' first turnover in three games.
That turned the field position around, and the Hogs had to start from their own 15 and 20 on their final two possessions of the first half. They went three and out on the first of those, although they just barely missed a play when Jones' perfect bomb came out of Smith's hands as he hit the ground on what would have been a 45-yard gain.
The Hogs got it together on the second of those possessions, driving 80 yards in 13 plays. They started it with power running from Talley, grinding out two first downs. Then, Clark went to work, completing passes of 14, 10, 21 and 6 on consecutive plays. Wilson caught three of those, all timing routes where Clark threw behind him just as he stopped. Cobbs circled right end from 2 yards out for the touchdown with 20 seconds left in the half. It was 7-7 after Brennan O'Donohoe's kick.
Ole Miss kicking game mistakes gave the lead to Arkansas in the third quarter. After Manning moved the Rebels to the UA 2-yard line on passes of 56 and 11 yards to tight end Doug Ziegler, kicker Jonathan Nichols was wide right on a 20-yard field goal.
Punter Cody Ridgeway's 16-yard shank out of bounds at the OM 42 helped the Hogs get the lead on O'Donohoe's 45-yard field goal. The Hogs went only 14 yards on the six-play drive. It was 10-7 at 5:32 of the third quarter.
Jason Armstead sparked the Rebels by returning the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to the UA 40-yard line. Manning passed the Rebels to the UA 5-yard line, before the Hogs stiffened. A bad snap on a shotgun set cost them 9 yards on third down at the UA 5-yard line. Nichols tied it with a 32-yard field goal that was just inside the right upright. It was 10-10 at 2:05 of the third quarter.
Arkansas answered with a sterling, 15-play, 85-yard touchdown march with Clark starting things and Jones finishing it off. Clark's pass to Wilson for 10 on the first play was the only non-rush. Jones converted a third-and-6 with an option keeper for 6 yards to the UA 35. He also converted third-and-2 with a 16-yard option keeper, and third-and-1 with a sneak. Mark Pierce carried on the mid-line handoff to the full back five times for 32 yards. Pierce took a straight handoff for the final 2 yards. It was 17-10 with 10:18 left in the game.
The Rebels tied it with an equally antiseptic, 13-play, 72-yard march with Manning converting only one third down. That one came on third-and-4 when he took a hard hit just after finding flanker Omar Rayford over the middle for a 5-yard gain. He passed to Armstead for the final 2 yards, righting himself after stumbling as he pulled away from center. It was tied at 17 with 4:50 left.
Arkansas and Ole Miss traded touchdowns to start the overtime. Cobbs rolled around left end for 16 yards on fourth-and-1 to open the first overtime. Manning hit Armstread on an 11-yard post route, just beyond Ken Hamlin's fingertips on fourth-and-6.
Arkansas got the option to start the second overtime, and elected to go on defense first. They stopped the Rebels when Caleb Miller stripped Manning and Curt Davis recovered. The Hogs went for a 35-yard field goal on fourth-and-3. O'Donohoe didn't appear to hit it solidly, and it was wide right.
Both teams scored touchdowns in the third overtime, when extra point kicks are not allowed. Jones scored on the first play, rolling around right end for 25 yards on a bootleg. The 2-point play failed when Decori Birmingham was stopped at the 2-yard line on a reverse. Gunn scored from the 1-yard line and Manning was incomplete on the 2-point play.
The Rebels had it first in the fourth overtime. Manning passed 21 yards to Flowers for the TD. Manning tried for a post-corner route on the 2-point play and passed long. The Hogs answered when Jones found George Wilson open on a play-action out route for 24 yards. Birmingham took an option pitch from Jones on the 2-point play, and was swarmed by two Rebels for a loss to leave the score tied at 36.
The Hogs got it first in the fifth overtime, and drove for another touchdown. Jones had Marcellus Poydras on the drag pattern. He underthrew it and Poydras had to make a diving catch for 14 yards to the 11. Jones scored on the option, breaking two tackles on his 8-yard keeper. The 2-point play failed when Jones' pass for Pierce was tipped away by a face-guarding linebacker. The tight end was open in the corner, but Jones did not find him.
The Rebels drove for a TD in four plays. Gunn carried for 8, 3 and 2 before Manning found tight end Doug Ziegler behind Jimarr Gallon from 12 yards. That tied it at 42. The Rebels went for the slant to Williams, but it was broken up just across the goal line.
Arkansas chose defense for the sixth overtime, and Manning need only two plays to put it in the end zone. He found Stackhouse in the flats for 10. Then, he tossed it to Ziegler for the final 15 yards. Stackhouse took a handoff in the shotgun to power over left tackle for the 2-point play to make it 50-42. The Hogs also scored in just two plays. Jones scrambled to the sideline and waited for Nathan Ball to find an open space. He fired a bullet for a 23-yard gain to the 2-yard line. Pierce powered over on the next play. Jones bought time on the 2-point play, then fired high and hard to the back of the end zone for Jason Peters to tie the score at 50.
The Hogs took a little longer to score to open the seventh overtime. They needed seven plays. Jones handed it to Pierce on a blast over right tackle for the final 2 yards. Jones faded to find his release valve for the 2-point conversion. He lobbed it to Birmingham just over the linebackers and in front of the safety. Ole Miss scored in nine plays, with Manning finding Armstread in a mismatch behind Caleb Miller for the final 3 yards. On the two-point play, Manning went back to Ziegler, but Jermaine Petty hit him at the 3-yard line, and Ziegler could not break free, going down at the 2-yard line.
The band turns to serenade the Razorback fans after the victory.
This celebration happened in the opposite end zone after Jermaine Petty's stop on the two-point play at the other end.
Matt Jones breaks a tackle on a 16-yard option keeper.
Houston Nutt at his post-game interview.
Photos by Clay Henry