BATON ROUGE - In the final game of a frustrating season of missed opportunities, the University of Arkansas football team battled its heart out against the No. 3 team in the country.
But they don't pass out wins for that - especially when you offer up a few gifts such as a safety, two missed field goals and some crushing penalties - so LSU held on for a 19-17 win over Arkansas Friday afternoon before 96,000 fans at Tiger Stadium.
The win clinched a share of the SEC Western Division title for LSU (10-1, 7-1) and a berth in the league's championship game against Georgia while the heartbreaking loss for Arkansas (4-7, 2-6) ended a two-game winning streak and finished the 2005 season for the Razorbacks.
"I have never been prouder of a group of young men that have had the season we had - one that didn't go as planned," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "We have every intention of going to a bowl game this year and that hurts. But in the middle of the year to find that out and keep fighting is where I love this guys. Even to the last tackle - the very last tackle - these guys were playing football."
After a humbling 70-17 loss at No. 1 USC in the second week of the season, the Razorbacks did turn it around in league play to at least be competitive.
The Razorbacks - who lose just three seniors that started this game - lost road games to SEC title game combatants Georgia and LSU by a combined five points and four of their conference games by a total of 13 points.
"They have come a thousand miles," Nutt said. "I feel real good (about the future). We are just going to keep fighting and keep going. I really look for some great things from this football team."
It was a tough end for the Razorback players, who went into the game 17-point underdogs, but had a chance to win late despite being outgained 301-1240 in total offense by shutting down the Tigers for most of the second half.
"I am really proud of us because we fought really hard and worked so hard to get to this point," Washington said. "I just can't help but be disappointed because we should have won the game. We have been so close for so long and we deserved a win like this."
LSU led 19-3 late in the third quarter before Arkansas begin to rise to the occasion,
"The thing about the Arkansas Razorbacks is that we have unbelievable heart," Washington added. "That is the one thing I can tell about us is that we will never give up. That's what we did, we just never gave up."
Arkansas looked to be on the verge of being blown out when LSU's Justin Vincent scored on a 4-yard run on his team's first possession of the third quarter and Colt David added the PAT put the Tigers ahead 19-3 with 10:40 left in the third quarter.
Razorback freshman tailback Darren McFadden, who had 24 carries for 57 yards rushing, returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards and - while Chris Balseiro missed his second field goal of the game - Arkansas took advantage of flipping the field.
On their next possession, UA quarterback Casey Dick threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Washington - who got the final 10 yards or so on his own effort - to cap a quick 7-play, 68-yard dash to paydirt.
"I was thinking it the whole time," Washington said. "I felt like I could have scored on a dump pass before, but felt like I didn't want it bad enough so I was just determined to not be stopped and get in the end zone."
McFadden then walked in untouched for the 2-point conversion to bring Arkansas to within 19-12 with 4:16 remaining in the third quarter.
The Razorbacks then closed it to 19-17 on McFadden's 1-yard run with 10:34 left in the game, but the two-point conversion failed when Dick's pass was intercepted.
The big play of that drive was a lateral from Dick to wideout Washington, who was recruited as a quarterback and who threw a 45-yard pass to Peyton Hillis that set up the Razorbacks at the LSU 4.
"I was really astonished at how open he was," Washington said. "I really wasn't expecting him to be that open. I just had to get him the ball. Coach (Nutt) made a really, really great call. The whole situation was just amazing."
The Razorbacks then had three possessions after getting to within two points - including Vickiel Vaughn's second interception of the game that set up Arkansas at midfield - but could not get any closer.
The final chance for Arkansas included a 4th-and-6 pass from McFadden to Marcus Monk for 13 yards and a first down at the LSU.
But De'Arrius Howard was stopped for a yard loss, Dick threw incomplete for Monk, Dick was then sacked and lost 8 yards and while he avoided another sack on fourth down by spinning around he had to just throw the ball up and it was picked off by Laron Landry.
Dick was 12-of-27 passing for 148 yards to five different receivers with a touchdown and two interception on a day when Arkansas had 241 yards total offense - only 35 rushing for the SEC's top ground team and 206 passing that included Washington's toss.
Monk had 3 catches for 79 yards and Hillis 3 for 58.
"I'm very proud of Casey Dick, to be in this environment and make some plays - and he made some mistakes - but this is not an easy environment for a true freshman, Nutt said. "Cedric Washington, Monk, McFadden all kept making plays. We came up two short."
LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell was 13-of-19 for 194 yards with a touchdown and two picks - same as Dick.
After a scoreless first quarter and David's 26-yard field goal early in the second quarter, Russell's 50-yard pass to LSU track star Bennie Brazzel and David's PAT put the home team up 10-0 with 10:50 left before halftime.
Balseiro, who missed field goals of 41 and 28 yards on the day, did make a 30-yarder to cut Arkansas' deficit to 10-3 at the 7:22 mark.
It looked like that would be the halftime score, but a bad punt snap to Jacob Skinner resulted in a safety to send LSU to intermission with a 12-3 advantage.
Still Arkansas had a shot at the end and Washington says he can't wait for next season.
"It's almost too good to think about because the future is so bright right now," Washington said. "The only thing we can do is just go back to work and be ready for whatever is to come."
LSU 19, Arkansas 17
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