Disaster Avoided

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino walked into the interview room, sat down at a table and finally exhaled.

"Woo, that was a lot closer than we anticipated," Petrino said, cracking a smile.

The beginning of the Petrino era wasn't supposed to conjure up memories of Jack Crowe, but it was hard to ignore the comparisons on Saturday.

For much of the night, Arkansas stumbled, fumbled and nearly opened another season with an embarrassing loss to a Football Championship Subdivision team.

But thanks to some late heroics by quarterback Casey Dick and a few surprising runs by him, Petrino got a chance to breathe a sigh of relief following a 28-24 win over Western Illinois in front of a crowd of 70,537 in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

"The thing you feel good about, even though it's not the type of win we wanted, is we kept playing hard in the fourth quarter," Petrino said. "And we found a way to come back and win the game."

Heading into Saturday's season opener, much of the talk was focused on the debut of Petrino's pass-happy offense. As for Western Illinois, the Leathernecks didn't receive a $315,000 check from Arkansas to nearly spoil the moment.

But the Razorbacks rallied from a 24-14 deficit with less than 11 minutes remaining, and Dick darted 4 yards for his second rushing touchdown and the go-ahead score with 1:49 left.

"I don't really know where that came from, to be honest with you," said Dick, who showed off his legs along with his right arm on Saturday. "I just stepped up and tried to make a play (and) put our team in the best situation down on the goal line."

Arkansas' offense struggled mightily in the first half, opening the door for Western Illinois to pull off the upset. Freshmen made rookie mistakes early on, wide receivers dropped passes and the offensive line provided Dick with not much pass protection.

The Razorbacks managed only 34 yards rushing, 144 yards of total offense and trailed 10-7 after surrendering too many sacks.

But the senior quarterback came through when needed down the stretch and showed off his increased role in Petrino's revamped offense.

He completed 25-of-41 passes for a career-high 318 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for a pair of game-altering touchdowns.

On Arkansas' final scoring drive, Dick completed passes of 24 and 21 yards to wide receivers Lucas Miller and Greg Childs to move the ball to midfield.

Trailing 24-21 and facing a fourth-and-10 from Western Illinois' 33, Dick nearly ran when the pocket collapsed. But he reconsidered and threw a strike to a sliding Carlton Salters for an 11-yard gain to keep the drive alive.

"I was going to run it actually, but then I saw him break open across the middle," Dick said. "So I just tried to stop and threw him a ball that could hit him and he was the only person that was going to be able to catch it."

Dick has never been asked in his previous three seasons as Arkansas' starting quarterback to carry the offense. But he seemed to do just that during the game-winning drive.

Two plays after the fourth-down conversion, Dick found Childs on a 13-yard pass to set up first-and-goal from the 8.

The senior capped his impressive night a few moments later when he took the snap, followed a path cleared by offensive tackle Ray Dominguez and darted into the left side of the end zone for the winning touchdown.

"When Arkansas needed to make some throws and catches, they did that. Some were really closely contested, even on the final drive," Western Illinois interim coach Mark Hendrickson. "They had to throw the ball right on the money and they had to make a great catch."

The last time Arkansas lost to a Football Championship Subdivision team — formerly known as Division I-AA — was in the 1992 season opener against The Citadel.

A day after the 10-3 loss, Crowe was fired by then-Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles. Petrino didn't have to worry about a similar fate.

"I didn't hear any boos," Petrino said. "I wanted to boo myself sometimes."

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