True freshman quarterback Casey Dick flapped his arms up and down after taking the final snap, sprinted to the stands and slapped hands with fans. Tailback De'Arrius Howard and fullback Brandon Kennedy led a long celebration that went from end zone to end zone. And safety Vickiel Vaughn, with his bloodied chin bandaged, grinned from ear-to-ear as he slowly walked off the field.
Arkansas has endured a season full of missed chances and blown opportunities, but relished every moment after its 28-17 win against Ole Miss in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday afternoon. And why not? The Hogs finally had reason to celebrate a Southeastern Conference win after making critical plays to erase a 10-point, third-quarter deficit.
"It means everything," Dick said. "It gives us confidence. We came in here, hadn't won a game in a while and now the locker room is ecstatic. We're happy.
"It's been a long time for us. It's a big SEC win. This is great for us."
Arkansas (3-6, 1-5 in SEC), hadn't won a conference game since its 24-21 win at Mississippi State on Nov. 20, 2004. The Hogs can thank their stingy defense and a rejuvenated passing offense for their second win in Oxford, Miss., in school history.
Dick completed his final 12 passes and finished 17 of 24 for 173 yards and 3 touchdowns in his second start. All three scoring strikes came in the second half, when Arkansas turned to its SEC-worst passing offense after its conference-leading ground game was held to a season-low 89 yards on 40 attempts.
The true freshman engineered 73-, 63- and 61-yard scoring drives in the game's final 14 minutes, wiping out a frustrating first half in which the Hogs compiled 51 yards, were 1 of 7 on third down and held the ball for only 9:55.
"Casey Dick, when we had to have it, on the line, he stood in the pocket and took some blows," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "But he made some unbelievable throws that helped win this game."
Most of them came after Ole Miss (3-6, 1-5) took a 17-7 lead on place kicker Matt Hinkle's 28-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.
The game turned on Arkansas' next possession, when Dick was sacked by Ole Miss' Nate Banks for an 8-yard loss on second-and-7 at the Rebels' 43. But defensive lineman McKinley Boykin was penalized for roughing the passer.
"That changed the momentum of the game," Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron said. "That was a poor job by our defense, giving us a penalty that we didn't need."
Dick found receiver Marcus Monk in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown pass to cut the Rebels' lead to 17-14 a few plays later. The Hogs took the lead early in the fourth quarter, when Dick found fullback Peyton Hillis for a 4-yard touchdown pass. And they iced it on their next possession, when Dick found Monk for a 24-yard score.
Dick was 12 of 13 for 154 yards and 3 touchdowns in the second half. The Razorbacks also were 8 of 8 on third down, making big plays at crucial times for the first time this season.
"I just think that it was like a virus," said Hillis, who caught four passes for 41 yards, added 14 rushing yards and 2 special teams tackles. "It kind of motivated all of us. When one of us made a play, the other one made a play.
Said Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis: "They played until the fourth quarter (the whole game) and we only played to halftime. You can't do that if you want to win the ball game."
It was a complete reversal of the first half, when Arkansas' only points came on safety Randy Kelly's 42-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Arkansas had to adjust because Ole Miss stuffed its ground game, limiting SEC-leading rusher Darren McFadden to 22 yards on 13 attempts. Freshman Felix Jones struggled as well, rushing for 50 yards on 13 carries. Both tailbacks lost fumbles.
"They were going to stop Darren McFadden and Felix Jones," Nutt said. "That was probably their worst first half of football in their college career."
But Ole Miss didn't fare much better after a solid first half in which quarterback Ethan Flatt, who earned his first start, engineered two scoring drives.
The Rebels got into the end zone on their second possession when Flatt found tailback Larry Kendrick for an 8-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead. Ole Miss took advantage of a McFadden fumble in the second quarter, scoring its second touchdown on Kendrick's 1-yard plunge with 5:37 left in the half.
It was the first time Ole Miss, which entered the game averaging 13.8 points and 301.1 yards a game, scored 14 points in the first half. The Rebels found success largely because of screen passes, which stumped the blitzing Hogs before the break.
But Herring's unit clamped down in the second half, keeping the Hogs in the game until the offense experienced its awakening.
"Our defense held on for us," Nutt said. "They fought, fought, fought, kept giving us our chances."
Flatt was 20 of 37 for 309 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions, but was sacked four times. The Rebels rushed for 10 yards on 34 attempts, gained five first downs in the second half and couldn't reach the end zone after the break.
"Coach Nutt came in here with a lot of passion (at halftime)," defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson said. "He said we can't end like this.
"We came out with a totally different attitude and came out with a victory."
The win won't help Arkansas become bowl eligible, but gave the Hogs plenty of confidence and knocked Ole Miss out of the postseason picture.
It also was Arkansas' second win in school history in Oxford, Miss., joining the 58-56, seven-overtime win in 2001. The Razorbacks celebrated Saturday afternoon much like the end of that unforgettable game against the Rebels.
"It's going to make our team grow up, mature," Nutt said. "It's going to give us so much confidence. This was huge. They'll grow with this game because it was clutch. It was on the line. It was pressure. That's the only way you can gain experience."
Razorbacks Earn First SEC Victory
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