‘Stoernover’ every bit as bitter as ‘Shootout’
It all came down to 5 plays, 43 yards and 75 seconds.
That’s the summary that made the earth shake for the Arkansas Razorbacks that Saturday, Nov. 14, 1998, and made a 28-24 loss to Tennessee the No. 1 most memorable game in this Silver Anniversary series.
Yes, this summer’s feast of football fun, reviewing top games, ends today. Hate that it ends on a losing note.
Just five seasons earlier during August, Danny Ford, in his first season as head coach at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, invited this reporter up to the top of the stands where he liked to observe parts of practice.
After a few minutes Ford asked, “Have the Razorbacks ever won any big games?” Sure, he was told. “Well, I sure haven’t heard about them. All I’ve heard about since I got here was that loss to Texas in 1969,” he said.
That left an impression that stuck, but that loss to Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville made a lot of folks forget the 1969 game.
The game some dubbed “The Stoernover” was one of the most memorable and as hard for the Razorback Nation to digest as the loss to Texas
was because the Hogs were just as good.
It was more than a couple of orange UT wins; Texas and Tennessee went on to win the national championship.
However, it was not Clint Stoerner’s fault. Yes, he fumbled, and Tennessee recovered. Standing in a mist in the end zone it was obvious momentum had just swung, but the Razorbacks didn’t take a timeout and the Volunteers came on the field with vengeance in their eyes.
It was later reported that on the winning drive UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe called five passing plays that head coach Phil Fulmer vetoed immediately.
Instead, Travis Henry ran for 15 yards to the Arkansas 28, picked up another 15 to the 13 and then 11 to the 2. Everyone in the place was on their feet and everyone knew Henry was getting the ball. He got a hard yard, and on second and goal the final yard for the winning touchdown with 28 seconds to play.
Arkansas’ locker room — in those days after games it was open to reporters — was as quiet as a morgue.
Standing in front of his locker ready to face the media was Stoerner.
“My fault,” were his first and last words, although in between guard Brandon Burlsworth — a hero and success story all his own — said no, it was his fault.
For the one and only time in his career, Burlsworth changed his lead foot while pulling, and either Stoerner tripped over Burlsworth’s foot or Burlsworth stepped on Stoerner’s foot (that was Burlsworth’s claim). As Stoerner was going down, the ball hit the ground and spurted free.
Billy Ratliff, who had made his first tackle of the game the play before, recovered.
Later Ratliff would say Burlsworth kicked his fanny the entire game until he pulled with the wrong foot.
In Tennessee that play is known as the “Stoerner Stumble,” but rarely does one player win or lose a game and rarely does one play determine a game, although that play was huge.
Arkansas had taken a 213 lead on three touchdown passes by Stoerner — two to Anthony Lucas and one to Emanuel Smith — but there would be no more touchdowns.
At the half, the Hogs had 269 yards of offense and led 21-10.
The Vols made several adjustments: They continued allowing Lucas to catch the ball, but they stayed in position to tackle him almost immediately. In the second half, the Razorbacks had 86 yards of offense and one field goal.
The Razorbacks fought and scrapped, but with 1:43 to play a fumble gave a great Tennessee team a final shot, and it took advantage. The No. 1 most memorable game since Arkansas joined the SEC is likely the one most fans would like to forget.