Sad Ending To A Legendary Player

LITTLE ROCK -- Sadly, this had all the earmarks of a fictional funeral as one-by-one, players walked by to pay their last respects to Arkansas senior quarterback Matt Jones.

As the clock ticked away on his team's 43-14 loss against No. 14 LSU on Friday in War Memorial Stadium, Jones sat silently on the bench.

Mostly he kept his head tilted down, looking up only to acknowledge teammates who offered words, pats on the helmet, handshakes and hugs.

All of them paid their respects to a genuine Razorbacks legend.

Senior center Kyle Roper was one of them.

"I just told him I was proud to have played with him," Roper said. "I just wished him the best and thanked him for everything he's done for us." Tiny Dowell Loggains, a 5-foot-5, 165-pound senior reserve quarterback/holder, sat next to Jones.

"What can you say?" Loggains said. "Everyone respects Matt. He's earned it. It's an honor to have been around him. I've never seen a guy who can do so many things on a football field.

"He's the best I've been around."

Jones, a 6-6, 237-pounder, ended his college career with unflattering numbers but a nagging injury to his right hamstring had a lot to do with it.

He was 12 of 29 passing for 152 yards, but suffered two interceptions and was sacked three times. More depressing perhaps was Jones' rushing 11 times for only minus-10 yards.

Still, he didn't alibi.

"My hamstring didn't bother me that much, really," Jones said. "I wish things could have gone better. I wanted to go out on a better note.

"Oh, well."

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt was convinced a healthy Jones could have made a bigger difference.

"He was playing on one leg," Nutt said. "I know we could have played better if Matt had been healthy. I know we could have scored some more points. That's tough. I'm glad he could do what he could do."

Jones, who orchestrated numerous comebacks in his star-spangled career -- that includes that 31-yard scoring strike to DeCori Birmingham with nine second left to beat LSU 21-20 to clinch the Southeastern Conference Western Division title in Little Rock in 2002 -- looked like only a shell of himself on Friday.

Remember, Jones is the SEC career quarterback rushing leader (2,535 yards). Against No. 6 Georgia (in a 20-14 loss on Oct 23), Jones passed former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond (2,280 career yards rushing) to break an 11-year-old record.

"I've been really blessed during my career at Arkansas," Jones said. "I've played with a lot of great players. A lot of good things have happened to me in four years. It just didn't work out today. I'll always be a Razorback.

"You just move on."

Jones left his college career behind when, with 4 minutes, 31 seconds left in the game, his pass to Cedric Washington sailed away.

That was it. He was finished.

"Yeah, I remember it," Jones said. "Like I said, things just didn't work out. I gave it all I had. I've done that ever since I've been here.

"The future is out of my hands."

That future belongs to players like redshirt freshman quarterback Robert Johnson, who finished up Friday's game after replacing Jones.

"Matt's been amazing," Johnson said. "He's helped me learn so much since I've been here. The main thing about Matt is the fact he remains calm all the time. Nothing seems to bother him. That's what I hope to do when I get a shot at starting.

"He never gets rattled."

Senior defensive end Jeb Huckeba nodded.

"He's so cool under pressure," Huckeba said. "He's a guy that can change a game in so many ways. I don't know how many games we won simply because of him.

"This season, he carried us on his back. He's the reason we were able to win five games. We were able to celebrate in the locker room a lot of times because of Matt Jones.

"He's a genuine guy who cares about his teammates. He's not cocky. He honors God.

"He's never changed."

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