Back ‘from the dead’

In the Hogs’ first SEC sea­son, many things went wrong. But when Todd Wright’s 41-yard field goal beat No. 4 Ten­nessee, op­ti­mism was re­stored.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

FAYET­TEVILLE — One sec­ond the Orange-clad crowd of more than 95,000 in Ney­land Sta­dium was deaf­en­ing.

The next sec­ond the home of the Ten­nessee Vol­un­teers fell eerily silent. “I re­mem­ber you could have heard a pin drop in there,” said J.J. Meadors, a fresh­man wide re­ceiver for the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs at the time. “It got real quiet real fast.” The Voun­teers and their fans were left stunned af­ter Todd Wright hit a 41-yard field goal with two sec­onds left to lift the Ra­zor­backs to a 25-24 vic­tory over No. 4 Ten­nessee on Oct. 10, 1992.

It was the high­light of a wild first sea­son in the SEC for the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, which be­gan with a 10-3 loss to The Ci­tadel that led to Jack Crowe’s fir­ing as head coach and Joe Kines’ pro­mo­tion from de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor to in­terim head coach. Arkansas, play­ing at Ten­nessee for the first time, came into the game as a 21-point underdog.

“It was one of those games where ev­ery­thing just kind of fell into place for us,” said Kines, who is re­tired and liv­ing in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “Things went right for us and went wrong for Ten­nessee.

“We didn’t make a lot of mis­takes and just kind of hung around un­til late in the game. Then you look up and we’ve got a chance to win this thing.”

The Vols were the high­est-ranked team the Ra­zor­backs had beaten on the road in 28 years, since a 14-13 vic­tory at No. 1 Texas on Oct. 17, 1964. “We have risen from the dead!” Arkansas Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Frank Broyles de­clared. Ra­zor­backs true fresh­man quar­ter­back Barry Lun­ney Jr. made his first start at Ten­nessee.

“I think that was the first ray of hope for Arkansas fans that year af­ter go­ing through a pretty tough or­deal early on,” said Lun­ney, who is now the Ra­zor­backs’ tight ends coach. “It was kind of a per­fect storm of events that hap­pens in foot­ball some­times.

“Ours hap­pened to be just good enough to beat a re­ally good team.”

Arkansas led 16-7 early in the sec­ond half, but Ten­nessee seem­ingly had avoided dis­as­ter when the Vols ral­lied to go ahead 24-16 with 10:28 left in the fourth quar­ter af­ter quar­ter­back Heath Shuler scored the sec­ond of his two rush­ing touch­downs.

Af­ter Ten­nessee forced a punt, Shuler scram­bled for a first down on a third-and-14 play with less than three min­utes left, but the gain was nul­li­fied by a hold­ing penalty.

In­stead of the Vols be­ing able to con­tinue run­ning down the clock, Tom Hut­ton came on to punt on fourth down from the Ten­nessee 30.

“Ten­nessee helped us when they didn’t punt the ball out of bounds,” said Danny Ford, the for­mer Clem­son head coach hired by Kines as an as­sis­tant af­ter Crowe’s fir­ing. “They shouldn’t have punted it to Or­lando.”

Or­lando Watters, a start­ing corner­back, fielded the punt at Arkansas’ 29, cut to his right, ran along the Ten­nessee side­line, cut back to the mid­dle and dashed 71 yards for a touch­down — mak­ing sev­eral Vols miss tack­les along the way — to pull the Ra­zor­backs within 24-22 with 2:28 left.

“Or­lando was just a hell of a player all the way around,” said Meadors, who co-owns and op­er­ates Salt County Sports Per­for­mance in Bryant. “He was a great de­fen­sive back, he could have played on of­fense, and he was so great on kick­off and punt re­turns.

“He wasn’t the best ath­lete. He didn’t run the fastest or jump the high­est, but on game day I can’t think of any­body else I’d rather have on my team in a clutch sit­u­a­tion than Or­lando.”

Lun­ney was sacked by line­backer Ge­orge Kidd — who blitzed and shot up the mid­dle un­touched — on a two-point con­ver­sion at­tempt.

Ten­nessee was still ahead but had to re­cover an on­side kick­off to clinch the vic­tory.

In­stead, Arkansas line­backer Dar­win Ire­land re­cov­ered Wright’s kick at the Ra­zor­backs’ 48.

The Vols sacked Lun­ney for the sixth time to put the Ra­zor­backs in a third-and-16 hole from their 42, but Lun­ney hit Tracy Caldwell for a 22-yard gain to the Ten­nessee 36.

Lun­ney and Caldwell con­nected again to move Arkansas to the 24, set­ting up Wright’s game-win­ning field goal.

Ten­nessee Coach Johnny Ma­jors called his fi­nal two time­outs while try­ing to ice Wright, but the se­nior hit his fourth field goal of the game.

“Todd was solid,” Kines said. “He wasn’t flaky. I’d just as soon have him kick­ing it as any­body.”

Kines said he and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Greg Davis de­cided early in the game week that Lun­ney should get his first start.

“Every­body knew he was go­ing to be the guy even­tu­ally any­way,” Kines said. “So we just made the de­ci­sion, ‘Hey, let’s go ahead and get this thing mov­ing right now. We might as well.’ “

Lun­ney com­pleted 13 of 19 passes for 168 yards, in­clud­ing a 50-yard touch­down to Ron Dick­er­son.

“I think I was just too young to be ner­vous about start­ing, to be hon­est with you,” Lun­ney said. “There wasn’t a lot of ex­pec­ta­tion go­ing into that week, but it was a thrill for me to be able to get the nod.

“When I’m with peo­ple, they say, ‘Man, you beat Ten­nessee in your first start.’ I’m al­ways quick to say, ‘Lis­ten, I started that game and I played. But there was Dar­win Ire­land re­cov­er­ing the on­side kick. Or­lando Watters’ punt re­turn. Todd Wright and his kicks. Jeff Sav­age ran the ball great. Tracy Caldwell made an un­be­liev­able catch. Our de­fense made a lot of plays.’

“There were just so many guys who had a huge hand in that win. I did pretty good for a true fresh­man, but our foot­ball team played fan­tas­tic that day.”

Meadors said Lun­ney never showed any signs of be­ing rat­tled by the Vols or the crowd.

“From the first snap, Barry just ex­pected to be out there,” Meadors said. “He made some big throws and man­aged the game well. He did ev­ery­thing it took for us to win in a big sit­u­a­tion like that.”

Ford re­mem­bered the re­ac­tion of a Ten­nessee fan af­ter the game.

“Walk­ing out of the sta­dium, one of their fans in the end zone gave me the No. 1 sign,” Ford said laugh­ing, in ref­er­ence to a rude ges­ture. “So that told me we’d done a good job.

“The Ten­nessee fans were in dis­be­lief. They just couldn’t be­lieve Arkansas had come in there and knocked off their team.”

Meadors said play­ing at Ten­nessee was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“When you come to the sta­dium and the fans are park­ing boats on the river, that gets your at­ten­tion,” Meadors said. “Ten­nessee has a lot of tra­di­tion and it was a great at­mos­phere.

“Johnny Ma­jors was stand­ing over there on the side­line with a blazer on. So you knew it was a big game.”

The game was the be­gin­ning of the end for Ma­jors’ 16-year run at Ten­nessee.

Ma­jors, a for­mer Arkansas as­sis­tant coach, missed the first three games af­ter un­der­go­ing heart surgery in Au­gust. Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Phillip Ful­mer served as in­terim coach and led the Vols to a 3-0 record, in­clud­ing vic­to­ries over Ge­or­gia

“He wasn’t the best ath­lete. He didn’t run the fastest or jump the high­est, but on game day I can’t think of any­body else I’d rather have on my team in a clutch sit­u­a­tion than Or­lando [Watters].” — J.J. Meadors, a fresh­man wide re­ceiver for the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs at the time

and Florida.

Ten­nessee won Ma­jors’ first two games af­ter he re­turned to coach — beat­ing Cincin­nati and LSU — but then the Vols lost to Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina by a com­bined nine points.

Ma­jors was forced to re­sign af­ter the reg­u­lar sea­son and re­placed by Ful­mer.

Kines said he has won­dered whether play­ing Ten­nessee the week be­fore Alabama came to Ney­land Sta­dium worked in the Ra­zor­backs’ fa­vor.

“We hadn’t had a whole lot of suc­cess, so we thought we might catch them at a time where they were look­ing ahead to Alabama,” Kines said. “Some­times kids let things slide a lit­tle bit and put more em­pha­sis on what’s down the road.”

The Ra­zor­backs fin­ished their first SEC sea­son 3-7-1 over­all, but they were 3-4-1 in con­fer­ence play.

Along with beat­ing Ten­nessee, they won 45-7 at South Carolina, played Auburn to a 24-24 tie on the road and beat LSU 30-6 in Fayet­teville.

“We played real good ball three or four times that year,” Kines said. “But we had a hard time sus­tain­ing

it through the course of the sea­son be­cause of ev­ery­thing that was go­ing on.

“Any time you fire a coach dur­ing the year, it kind of knocks the kids’ feet out from un­der them a lit­tle bit.”

Kines said his play­ers had some ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion against Ten­nessee af­ter read­ing a col­umn by John Adams of the Knoxville News-Sen­tinel, who jok­ingly wrote that Arkansas’ let­ter­men were so em­bar­rassed by the team’s per­for­mance they had sug­gested chang­ing the UA’s nick­name tem­po­rar­ily from the Ra­zor­backs to the Pot­bel­lied Pigs.

“That ar­ti­cle got our play­ers’ at­ten­tion and gave them a cause to rally around,” Kines said. “I don’t know how much it helped, but it cer­tainly didn’t hurt.

“The strange part about that whole sea­son, if you go back and look, most of the time we played our best on the road. I’ve run that through my mind a lot of times over the years, why it was like that.

“I don’t know the an­swer, but that team han­dled the away games about as well as any­body could.”

That was es­pe­cially true on the Ra­zor­backs’ first visit to Ney­land Sta­dium.

Cour­tesy Univer­sity of Arkansas Ra­zor­back Ath­let­ics

Todd Wright is car­ried off the field af­ter kick­ing the game-win­ning field goal to de­feat No. 4 Ten­nessee in 1992 at Knoxville, Tenn. A lit­tle more than a month ear­lier, the Ra­zor­backs had lost to Di­vi­sion I-AA The Ci­tadel in their first game as a mem­ber of the SEC.

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