Along came Jones, 7 OTs of stress, success
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.”
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.
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.