Ox­ford odyssey

Along came Jones, 7 OTs of stress, suc­cess

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

FAYETTEVILLE — It turned into a Whop­per of a vic­tory for the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs. Beat­ing Ole Miss took so long on Nov. 3, 2001, at Vaught-Hem­ing­way Sta­dium — an NCAA record seven over­times — that the piz­zas or­dered for the Ra­zor­backs to eat af­ter the game had turned hard and cold by the time the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayetteville won 58-56.

Din­ing op­tions for a party of more than 100 were limited so late on a Satur­day night in Ox­ford, Miss., but Arkansas Coach Hous­ton Nutt fig­ured his play­ers de­served some­thing bet­ter than pizza that had been sit­ting in the locker room for a cou­ple of hours.

Dean We­ber, who was Arkansas’ trainer, man­aged to find a Burger King that was open on the Ra­zor­backs’ drive to Tu­pelo, Miss. — where the char­ter air­craft fly­ing them home awaited — and put in a mas­sive to-go or­der.

“I said, ‘Dean, tell Coach [Frank] Broyles we’ve got to get the credit card out, be­cause I’m go­ing to buy all these guys a Whop­per!’ ” Nutt re­called re­cently, re­fer­ring to Broyles, Arkansas’ ath­letic

di­rec­tor at the time. “We ate our Whop­pers and laughed all the way to Tu­pelo.”

Out­side line­backer Tony Bua, who led the Ra­zor­backs with 13 tack­les, said the play­ers ap­pre­ci­ated get­ting some hot ham­burg­ers.

“We had to wait a while, but it was worth it,” Bua said. “It brought me back to my mid­dle school days where af­ter base­ball games the team would stop and eat some­where.”

We­ber said Burger King was an ap­pro­pri­ate choice for the postgame meal.

“We had it our way win­ning the game,” We­ber said, us­ing the fast-food chain’s ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gan. “Then we had it our way af­ter the game.”

Arkansas se­nior mid­dle line­backer Jer­maine Petty, an All-Amer­i­can in 2001, said the play­ers were happy to fi­nally win the game, but phys­i­cally drained as well.

“It was one of those feel­ings where you know you did some­thing good,” Petty said. “But you’re just too tired to re­ally cel­e­brate it.”

Some­one on the bus be­gan play­ing mu­sic and Petty said he and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor John Thomp­son stood up and sang.

“We were just try­ing to bring a lit­tle en­ergy back to the bus,” Petty said. “But as soon as that song was over, I sat down and al­most passed out from ex­haus­tion.”

Petty ended the game by tack­ling Doug Zei­gler short of the end zone on a two­point at­tempt af­ter the Ole Miss tight end caught a pass over the mid­dle from Eli Man­ning.

“Jer­maine’s eyes were so good,” Nutt said. “He read the play and was right there in per­fect po­si­tion and made a text­book fun­da­men­tal tackle — boom!”

Petty, who now lives in Green­land and is a per­sonal trainer, said that when the Rebels came out of their hud­dle and lined up, he rec­og­nized the play they had run ear­lier in the game.

“Zei­gler was catch­ing ev­ery­thing Eli threw to him that night, so I fig­ured he was go­ing to go to him again,” Petty said. “I put my­self in the right sit­u­a­tion to make a play on the ball.

“It was just one of those in­stinc­tive things.”

Bua said he fell to his knees when the game ended and watched in amaze­ment as Petty ran to the other end of the field with his arms out-stretched like air­plane wings.

“To this day, I still don’t un­der­stand how Jer­maine had enough en­ergy to sprint 100 yards in air­plane mode,” Bua said. “I was barely able to get up off the ground and walk to the side­line.”

Petty said he was send­ing a mes­sage to his team­mates.

“That was my way of telling the guys, ‘We’re fi­nally go­ing to get to load up the plane and fly out of here,’ ” Petty said. “I guess adren­a­line took over.”

Man­ning, the No. 1 over­all pick in the 2004 NFL Draft and a two-time Su­per Bowl cham­pion with the New York Gi­ants, hit Ja­son Arm­stead with a 3-yard touch­down pass with 4:50 left in the fourth quar­ter tie the game 17-17.

Both teams punted on their fi­nal pos­ses­sions of reg­u­la­tion, send­ing the game to over­time.

The over­time pe­ri­ods turned into a duel be­tween Man­ning and Arkansas fresh­man quar­ter­back Matt Jones, who played off the bench af­ter Zak Clark started for the Ra­zor­backs.

“It was re­ally amaz­ing to watch, be­cause ev­ery time Eli would make a play, Matt would come back and make one for us,” Bua said. “Those guys just kept com­ing through again and again.”

Man­ning com­pleted 27 of 42 passes for 312 yards and 6 touch­downs with­out an in­ter­cep­tion. Five of his touch­down passes came in over­time.

Jones rushed 18 times for 110 yards and 2 touch­downs and com­peted 3 of 6 passes for 61 yards and 1 touch­down. In over­time he had touch­down runs of 25 and 8 yards and com­pleted two­point passes to Ja­son Peters and DeCori Birm­ing­ham.

Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowl pick at of­fen­sive tackle still play­ing for the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, was a red­shirt fresh­man in 2001 and made his first start at tight end against Ole Miss af­ter mov­ing from de­fen­sive tackle.

“Matt did the most un­be­liev­able job of im­prov,” Nutt said. “He was the master. Some­thing would break down and Matt would find a way to make a play.”

Jones, a first-round pick in the 2005 draft by Jack­sonville as a wide re­ceiver, be­came Arkansas’ ca­reer leader in to­tal of­fense with 8,392 yards and com­bined touch­downs rush­ing and pass­ing with 77.

“I think that was Matt’s break­out game against Ole Miss,” Petty said. “That’s where we got to see who Matt Jones ac­tu­ally was.

“He had that non­cha­lant at­ti­tude, but he could re­ally go out and per­form in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions. I ac­tu­ally was like a fan watch­ing him make plays and think­ing, ‘I’m glad he’s on my team.’ “

Arkansas full­back Mark Pierce scored on a 2-yard touch­down run to put Arkansas up 56-50 in the sev­enth over­time, and Jones’ two-point pass to Birm­ing­ham put the Ra­zor­backs ahead 58-50.

“Matt was do­ing things only Matt could do,” Bua said. “That might have been the night Matt per­son­ally started be­liev­ing in him­self a lit­tle bit more, that he proved to the team and him­self that he was just a play­maker.

“I think it gave him a lot of con­fi­dence mov­ing for­ward in his ca­reer.”

Jones said af­ter the game mak­ing plays wasn’t as easy as he made it look.

“You just feel the pres­sure the whole time you’re out there, but I was try­ing to have fun with it,” he said. “That’s the only way you can do it.

“It was an awe­some ex­pe­ri­ence, and I’m glad that ev­ery­thing worked out.”

Man­ning’s 3-yard touch­down pass to Arm­stead pulled Ole Miss within 58-56, but Petty made sure there wouldn’t be an eighth over­time.

Petty is still keep­ing his hand in foot­ball. He’s in the process of putting to­gether a travel team called the Arkansas Sil­ver­backs for 11and 12-year-olds.

“As a kid you al­ways dream about mak­ing a game-win­ning play like that,” Petty said. “That was just all the prepa­ra­tion we’d done and the teach­ing from the coaches. All the film watch­ing and break­ing down plays paid off.”

It ap­peared the game would end in the third over­time when Arkansas de­fen­sive line­man Curt Davis re­cov­ered a fum­ble by Man­ning. The Ra­zor­backs only needed a field goal to win, but Brennan O’Dono­hoe’s 35-yard at­tempt was wide right.

“That was a lot of pres­sure for Brennan,” Petty said. “When he didn’t make the kick, we told him, ‘Keep your head up. The de­fense has your back.’ ”

The Ra­zor­backs and Rebels com­bined for 988 yards in to­tal of­fense on 198 plays, in­clud­ing 322 yards on 59 plays in over­time.

Arkansas tail­back Fred Tal­ley rushed 23 times for 113 yards and Cedric Cobbs had 22 car­ries for 100 yards. Ge­orge Wil­son led the Ra­zor­backs with eight catches for 105 yards.

Zei­gler had five catches for 102 yards to lead the Rebels and Joe Gunn rushed 31 times for 102 yards.

The game, tele­vised on ESPN2, was de­ter­mined to be an “In­stant Clas­sic” and re­played the next week­end on ESPN Clas­sic.

“It was gla­di­a­tor-like,” Nutt said af­ter the game. “TD af­ter TD. Two points af­ter two points.”

Which re­sulted in dozens of cold piz­zas in the Arkansas locker room.

“A few of us tried to eat that pizza, but it just wasn’t go­ing down very good,” Petty said. “We were re­ally happy Coach Nutt stopped and got us those Whop­pers.”

Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas line­backer Ray­mond House pauses to pray af­ter the Ra­zor­backs’ 58-56, seven-over­time vic­tory over Mis­sis­sippi in 2001 at Vaught-Hem­ing­way Sta­dium in Ox­ford, Miss. It was the long­est NCAA game ever played. The Ra­zor­backs equaled the mark two years later in a seven-over­time vic­tory at Ken­tucky.

Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas fresh­man quar­ter­back Matt Jones rushed for 110 yards in the vic­tory over Ole Miss in 2001. He ran for two touch­downs, passed for an­other and com­pleted a pair of two-point con­ver­sion passes — all in the over­time pe­ri­ods.

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