Photo provided by Arkansas athletics
In a contest that has 114 total points, it’s almost impossible to say that defenses dominated most of the day. On this day 20 years ago in Oxford, Miss. however, that was the case.
After playing to a 17-17 tie through 60 minutes, Arkansas was able to beat Ole Miss in a 7-overtime contest for the ages. A failed 2-point conversion was ultimately the difference as the Razorbacks prevailed, 58-56.
Setting the Stage
After a 1-3 start, Arkansas had won three straight games, including two against ranked opponents, as it arrived at Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium on Nov. 3, 2001. Despite the 3-game winning streak, the Razorbacks were still looking for their first road win of the season.
Ole Miss was 6-1 and riding a 5-game winning streak. The Rebels had won the last two and three of the last four in the series.
Through three quarters, the contest was tied 10-10, but the teams traded long touchdown drives to open the fourth. After Mark Pierce’s 2-yard touchdown run capped a 15-play, 85-yard drive and gave Arkansas a 17-10 lead, Ole Miss responded with a 13-play, 72-yard march. With less than five minutes to go, Eli Manning found Jason Armstead for the tying touchdown pass.
The teams traded punts on the final two possessions of regulation. On the first two possessions of overtime, the teams traded touchdowns. Both came on fourth down.
First, Cedric Cobbs scored his second touchdown of the day — this one from 16 yards out. Ole Miss answered when Manning and Armstead hooked up for an 11-yard score on 4th-and-6.
Arkansas was in a prime position to win the game in the second overtime after recovering a Manning fumble. With a chance to be the hero however, Arkansas’ Brennan O’Donohoe missed the winning field goal attempt from 35 yards away.
The sting however, would be temporary. On the very next play, Matt Jones raced 25 yards to give the Razorbacks the lead, but the 2-point try was no good.
Down 30-24, it took Ole Miss five plays to answer. Joe Gunn, who scored the game’s first touchdown, found the end zone from a yard out to knot the score. Needing only to convert the 2-point try to win, Manning’s throw for Omar Rayford was incomplete.
To a fourth overtime the contest went.
On the second play of Ole Miss’ fourth possession, Manning and Bill Flowers hooked up for a 22-yard touchdown. Again, the 2-point conversion attempt was no good.
Like Ole Miss, Arkansas needed just two plays to hit paydirt. Jones’ 24-yard touchdown pass to George Wilson tied the game at 36 and left the Razorbacks needing only a successful conversion to win. On the try however, Ole Miss was able to stop Decori Birmingham shy of the goal line.
Each team needed just two plays to score in the fourth overtime. In the fifth, they each needed four.
Facing 3rd-and-7, Jones’ second rushing touchdown of overtime — an 8-yard run — put Arkansas back in front. Again, the 2-point try failed. Arkansas led, 42-36.
After three Gunn runs on Ole Miss’ possession, Manning found Doug Zeigler for the 12-yard touchdown. The Rebels were just a conversion away from victory, but it was not to be as Manning misfired for Robert Williams.
The contest was tied 42-42, but that lasted for just two plays as Manning and Ziegler again hooked up for a score — this time from 15 yards out. Ole Miss finally broke the ice and executed a 2-point conversion in the sixth overtime as Charles Stackhouse rushed for the score to push the lead to 50-42.
Two plays would be the magic number in overtime No. 6. Following a 22-yard completion from Jones to Nathan Ball, Pierce rushed for a 3-yard touchdown. To keep its hopes alive however, Arkansas needed to do something it hadn’t yet: convert a 2-point try.
Jones threw to Jason Peters for the conversion. Through six overtimes, the score was even at 50 apiece.
In the seventh overtime, Arkansas needed seven plays — all runs. On 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, head coach Houston Nutt had a decision to make. He kept his offense on the field.
Pierce would find the end zone for the second straight possession and third time on the evening. On the 2-point try, Jones found Birmingham and the Razorbacks were in front, 58-50.
With an 8-point lead, Arkansas had two tries for one stop. The first came on 4th-and-2 from the 6-yard-line, but Manning was able to hit Armstead at the sticks for a first down. Two plays later, the two hooked up for their third touchdown connection of the night.
The 4-yard touchdown pass cut the lead to two, but Ole Miss needed a 2-point conversion to stay alive. This time, the Arkansas defense was able to come through.
After finding Ziegler twice in the end zone earlier in overtime, that’s who Manning targeted again. As the ball got to Ziegler near the goal line, he was leveled by linebacker Jermaine Petty. The ball popped loose and hit the ground.
It was incomplete.
The game was finally over.
After more than four hours and seven overtimes, the Razorbacks were victorious, 58-56.
The box score was about as crazy as the game itself. Manning was on the losing end despite throwing for 312 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Gunn rushed for 102 yards in the loss while Ziegler led the Rebels with the same total receiving.
Fred Talley, Jones and Cobbs tallied 113, 110 and 100 rushing yards, respectively, for an Arkansas team that finished with 370 yards on the ground. Wilson finished with eight of the 12 receptions for Arkansas and a game-high 105 yards receiving. Kevin Thomas had an interception and a forced fumble for the Ole Miss defense.
The defeat would begin a 3-game losing streak for Ole Miss. It closed the season 7-4 after beating Vanderbilt in the regular season finale.
Arkansas would beat UCF and Mississippi State to run its winning streak to six and make an appearance in the polls. The Razorbacks closed the year with losses to LSU and then Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl to finish 7-5.
Arkansas’ 7-overtime victory in Oxford served as the longest game in college football history at the time and will be talked about for years to come in Fayetteville. It came on this day two decades ago.