Play­back, pay­back

Sto­erner gets ‘go­rilla’ off his back

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

FAYET­TEVILLE — The Arkansas Ra­zor­backs knew they owed Ten­nessee when the Vols came to visit on Nov. 13, 1999.

“It’s like hav­ing a cousin that punched you and he lives out of town,” said Kenoy Kennedy, a two-time All-SEC free safety for the Ra­zor­backs and a se­nior in 1999. “But you know he’s got to come back to grandma’s house next year, so you’re wait­ing to get him back.

“That’s the way we looked at it.”

Ten­nessee had de­liv­ered

a punch in the gut to the Ra­zor­backs a year ear­lier when the No. 1 Vols ral­lied to win 28-24 at Ney­land Sta­dium by scor­ing a touch­down with 28 sec­onds left af­ter quar­ter­back Clint Sto­erner lost a fum­ble.

Adding to the Ra­zor­backs’ agony was that the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville was 8-0 and ranked No. 10 go­ing into the Ten­nessee game.

The Vols went on to fin­ish 13-0 and beat Florida State in the Fi­esta Bowl to win the na­tional cham­pi­onship.

“When you go into the sea­son, there’s al­ways one or two games you know are go­ing to be the big­gest,” said An­thony Lu­cas, a se­nior wide re­ceiver for the Ra­zor­backs in 1999. “We def­i­nitely had that Ten­nessee game cir­cled on our sched­ule.

“We were ready and we couldn’t wait to play them again. Ev­ery­body was so fo­cused.”

It wasn’t only the play­ers who were hun­gry for pay­back.

“The whole week on cam­pus stu­dents came up to you and said, ‘This is the week. We owe ‘em,’ ” Kennedy said. “We were say­ing the same thing in the locker room.

“Our at­ti­tude was, ‘We’ve got to make this hap­pen. We owe it to the state and we owe it to our­selves and the fans. We owe it to ev­ery­body that’s ever been through the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas.’

“I think ev­ery­body took it upon them­selves to make sure we were pre­pared to leave it all on the field. If you’re not ex­hausted and beat up af­ter this game, shame on you.”

Sto­erner, a se­nior in 1999, was es­pe­cially anx­ious about get­ting an­other shot at Ten­nessee.

“Very rarely in my ca­reer did a game mean some­thing per­son­ally to me,” said Sto­erner, who is now an­a­lyst for the SEC Net­work. “I never played the game for me.

“It was al­ways about the abil­ity to get 11 guys on the same page and score points and not turn the ball over and play well.

“But when we played Ten­nessee in ‘99 I re­mem­ber feel­ing a lot more pres­sure per­son­ally than any other game. Be­fore that game, I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘I’ve got to get this mon­key — a go­rilla, re­ally — off my back.’ “

On Arkansas’ first of­fen­sive play Sto­erner passed to Lu­cas for a 7-yard gain.

“An­thony is 6-4 and could jump out of the gym,” Sto­erner said. “He jumped up and caught the ball, as he did a lot of times, but I al­most missed him be­cause I was so ner­vous.”

Sto­erner and Lu­cas con- nected five other times in the game, the last of which lifted Arkansas to a 28-24 vic­tory and knocked the No. 3 Vols out of a shot to win a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive na­tional cham­pi­onship.

“We’d been hit­ting the hitches, the curls, the come- backs,” said Hous­ton Nutt, the Ra­zor­backs’ coach from 1998-2007. “I said, ‘It’s time to go deep again. We’re go­ing to pro­tect this thing with play-ac­tion and it’s go­ing to be a touch­down.’

“An­thony re­ally knew how to beat the cush­ion of a de- fen­der and set it up just right, and Clint put the ball in there per­fect.”

Lu­cas, an as­sis­tant coach for Pu­laski Academy, beat cor­ner­back Dwayne Goodrich on a post route and hauled in Sto­erner’s pass for a 23-yard touch­down play that put the Ra­zor­backs ahead 2824 with 3:24 left in the fourth quar­ter.

“I wanted the ball in my hands at that time,” Lu­cas said. “I knew if it came to me, I had to make the catch.

“We had just hit them with that a cou­ple plays be­fore with Em­manuel Smith catch­ing a pass across the mid­dle.

“Then Coach called it again, and Clint pumped the ball to Em­manuel and that brought the safety down. I came be­hind Em­manuel and I beat my guy and Clint’s throw was right on the money.”

The touch­down capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive, but the Ra­zor­backs still had to stop the Vols.

Se­nior quar­ter­back Tee Martin drove Ten­nessee to the Arkansas 17, but he threw in­com­ple­tions on third and fourth downs and the Ra­zor­backs ran out the fi­nal 1:23.

“Our de­fense made a great stand, but I was ner­vous all the way to the end un­til we took a knee on that last snap,” Nutt said. “You just wanted to get out of there with the win so badly.”

Kennedy ran to the side­line and em­braced Sto­erner af­ter Martin’s in­com­ple­tion on fourth-and-6.

“We hugged in the mid­dle of the field like we were long lost broth­ers,” said Kennedy, who led the Ra­zor­backs with 14 tack­les. “I re­mem­ber that like it was yes­ter­day.

“Clint said, ‘We did it!’ ‘And I told him, ‘Man, this game is for you. We got ‘em.’ “

Ten­nessee line­backer Raynoch Thomp­son said there was noth­ing lucky about the Ra­zor­backs’ vic­tory.

“Peo­ple are al­ways say­ing that ‘lucky’ word, but they don’t know the def­i­ni­tion of word,” Thomp­son said. “Luck is tak­ing ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity when it presents it­self. And they took ad­van­tage of all the op­por­tu­ni­ties they had.

“I credit Arkansas. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a per­for­mance like that.”

The teams ar­rived at the game headed in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

Ten­nessee (7-1, No. 3 AP, No. 2 BCS) was com­ing off a 38-14 vic­tory over Notre Dame and Arkansas (5-3, un­ranked) had just lost to Ole Miss 38-16.

But the Ra­zor­backs were mo­ti­vated by the re­sult­ing crit­i­cism of their lop­sided loss to the Rebels that in­cluded

a 31-3 half­time deficit.

“I love this school,” Arkansas de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Keith Burns, who played for the Ra­zor­backs, said af­ter the Ten­nessee game. “When you get taken shots at and the school means so much to you, it hurts. I just wanted to get the guys ready to play as well as they could.

“I told the guys all week long, when ESPN rolls the high­lights of the top 25, you’ve got a chance to let the whole na­tion know how good you are.”

Nutt ral­lied his team with an up­beat at­ti­tude dur­ing the week, told the Ra­zor­backs not to dwell on the Ole Miss game and had lighter prac­tices in sweats rather than full pads.

Sev­eral Ra­zor­backs said the prac­tice sched­ule helped freshen them up.

“Ev­ery­body on our team played their guts out,” Nutt said af­ter the game. “I loved the ef­fort. Our kids never quit on us.

“We were gi­ant killers today. For two hours and 30 min­utes, we were the bet­ter team.”

Ten­nessee Coach Phillip Ful­mer couldn’t help but agree.

“Our kids re­spect Arkansas and we pre­pared well, but I think they emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally whipped us,” Ful­mer said. “Who­ever has the most heart wins the game.

“They out­coached us and out­played us. My hat is off to their staff, their play­ers and their fans.”

Fans flooded the field when the game ended, tore down the goal posts and took them to Dick­son Street, where the cel­e­bra­tion lasted into the wee hours of Sun­day morn­ing.

Af­ter things had calmed down a bit, Sto­erner and Lu­cas were among the play­ers who au­to­graphed the goal posts.

“I haven’t seen any­thing like it since,” Sto­erner said of the cel­e­bra­tion. “I don’t come to ev­ery game, but it would be hard to re-cre­ate the year­long buildup to that game.

“The same peo­ple that brought up the fum­ble all year were the same ones danc­ing on Dick­son Street. That’s all part of it.”

Sto­erner com­pleted 18 of 28 passes for 228 yards and 2 touch­downs. Lu­cas had 6 re­cep­tions for 96 re­cep­tions and se­nior Boo Wil­liams was 4 for 82. Fresh­man tail­back Cedric Cobbs rushed 15 times for 107 yards.

Martin com­pleted 22 of 44 passes for 311 yards, but the Ra­zor­backs held tail­back Travis Henry to 79 yards on 12 car­ries af­ter he had rushed for 197 yards against them the pre­vi­ous sea­son.

Arkansas took a 7-0 lead on cor­ner­back se­nior David Bar­rett’s 43-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn in the first quar­ter on a pass that bounced off the hands of run­ning back Ja­mal Lewis, but the Vols were ahead 24-14 mid­way through the third quar­ter af­ter touch­down runs by Lewis, Martin and Henry.

Sto­erner hit Wil­liams with a 53-yard touch­down pass with 6:02 left in the third quar­ter to pull the Ra­zor­backs within 24-21 and set up the fourth-quar­ter drama.

“It was a re­demp­tion game,” Kennedy said. “We’d waited a whole year to get an­other shot at Ten­nessee.

“For us to beat them the way we did, by the same score they beat us, and for the game to come down to the end made it that much bet­ter.”

Ten­nessee free safety Deon Grant said the Ra­zor­backs were fired up in pregame warmups and not shy about let­ting the Vols know about it.

“Those boys were hun­gry,” Grant said. “They flat out beat us. They told us what they were go­ing to do be­fore the game. They said they were go­ing to bring their game to us.”

Kennedy, who lives in Four­ney, Texas, and man­ages real es­tate prop­er­ties along with busi­nesses for home care and gen­eral con­tract­ing, played eight sea­sons in the NFL with Den­ver and Detroit, but said he never en­joyed foot­ball more than when Arkansas beat Ten­nessee.

“I re­mem­ber more of my col­lege games than I do my NFL ca­reer,” Kennedy said. “Peo­ple ask me all the time about play­ing in the NFL, and I tell them I’d trade my pro days for col­lege days any day of the year.

“I wouldn’t trade the salary, but I’ll trade the game. Es­pe­cially beat­ing Ten­nessee my se­nior year. That’s one I’ll never for­get.”

Page 1A of the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette’s Sun­day edi­tion fea­tured a photo of Sto­erner kneel­ing in prayer af­ter the game ended.

“I don’t mean to get all dra­matic, but win­ning that game meant so much to me per­son­ally be­cause of what my team­mates meant to me,” Sto­erner said. “The hard­est thing about the ’98 game was know­ing I let down the play­ers who had grad­u­ated and didn’t get a chance to come back with me the next year.

“Those guys meant a lot to me, and the fact they didn’t get to come back and get the bad taste out of their mouths was painful. But I had a chance to help the guys still there get the bad taste out of our mouths and that’s why it felt so good to win.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Keith Burns (from left), Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Frank Broyles, Coach Hous­ton Nutt and Chan­cel­lor John White em­brace af­ter the Ra­zor­backs — a year af­ter los­ing to Ten­nessee 28-24 in Knoxville, Tenn. — held on to beat No. 3 Vol­un­teers on Nov. 13, 1999, by the same score at Ra­zor­back Sta­dium in Fayet­teville.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Quar­ter­back Clint Sto­erner threw for 228 yards and three scores, in­clud­ing what turned out to be the game-win­ning 23-yard touch­down to wide re­ceiver An­thony Lu­cas to give Arkansas a come­from-be­hind up­set vic­tory over Ten­nessee.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas re­ceiver An­thony Lu­cas brings in the win­ning touch­down pass from Clint Sto­erner in the fourth quar­ter of a 28-24 vic­tory over Ten­nessee in 1999 at Ra­zor­back Sta­dium.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas fans pose with the goal post from Ra­zor­back Sta­dium af­ter beat­ing No. 3 Ten­nessee 28-24 in 1999.

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