Arkansas vs. Ole Miss: Controversies, heartbreak, and the birth of legends
The roots of the Arkansas-Ole Miss rivalry go back more than 110 years and through that century-plus there have been controversies, heartbreak, and legendary victories.
Let’s begin in 1908. It was the first year Arkansas and Ole Miss squared off on the football field and it was a lopsided 33-0 victory for Hugo Bezdek’s “wild band of Razorback hogs.” (It actually wasn’t until 1909 that Bezdek dubbed the team with the Razorback/Hog moniker.)
1908 was the first season for Coach Bezdek, who had played fullback for Amos Alonzo Stagg’s Chicago Maroons football team. The Ole Miss game was a bright spot in the 5-4 season.
If you ask Arkansas sports historians what the series rivalry stands at, they’ll tell you 36 wins for UA, 28 wins for Ole Miss and one tie. But Ole Miss claims the record is only 35 wins for the Razorbacks and 29 wins for the Rebels.
The cause for the controversy stems from the 1914 game. Ole Miss won 13-7, but was later accused of using an illegal player. I know, sounds hard to believe that Ole Miss would cheat 100 years ago to win a football game, but that’s the accusation. So Arkansas counts the loss as a victory due to the ineligibility of the player, while Ole Miss still counts it as a victory.
You knew there would be controversy.
Ole Miss crushed some dreams for Arkansas twice in the Frank Broyles’ era winning the 1963 and 1970 Sugar Bowls.
But Arkansas has had its fair share of destroying Ole Miss’ season hopes. The two legendary games are the seven-overtime victory in 2001 and the 2015 immortalized “Henry Heave.”
2001’s barnburner was pretty unexpected. Arkansas came into the game 4-3, while Ole Miss was 6-1. Ole Miss had Eli Manning at the helm and Zak Clark started for Arkansas at quarterback. But Matt Jones came in during the second half and was a star in overtime. While the final score was 58-56, it was only 17-17 at the end of regulation.
By the end of the game, there would be 10 lead changes, 988 yards of total offense, and four hours and 14 minutes of nerve-wracking, fingernail-biting, gut-wrenching, hypertension-inflating football before Arkansas came out ahead in seven overtimes. Little did we know, we were watching the birth of the Matt Jones legend. Ironically, a defensive play by senior linebacker Jermaine Petty ended the drama.
Of course, 2015 is just one for the ages. 4th and 25 in overtime. Quarterback Brandon Allen completes a pass to tight end Hunter Henry short of a first down, but Henry “heaves” a lateral backward. The ball bounces into the hands of running back Alex Collins, who scoots 31 yards for a first down. It kept the drive alive and led to an Allen to Drew Morgan touchdown and subsequent quarterback keeper two-point conversion to end the game, 53-52 for the Hogs.
For the rest of their lives, that one “4th and 25” play will link Hunter Henry and Alex Collins in Arkansas football folklore. For the whole team, the 2015 victory over Ole Miss had huge repercussions.
Arkansas’ win over Ole Miss in that game knocked the Rebels out of the driver seat for the SEC championship game. They had beaten Alabama earlier that year. The Arkansas loss put Alabama back in and they won a national championship. If Ole Miss had defeated Arkansas, they likely would have gone to Atlanta and it’s debatable if Alabama would have made the four-team playoff. This is the cruelty of a college football rivalry and why we love an epic ending.
Who knows if this year’s Arkansas-Ole Miss game will create a “one for the ages” moment? With expectations for both sides being downplayed, it’s unlikely to rise to the level of 2001 or 2015.
With the way things have been going for Ole Miss lately, I’d be more inclined to place my money on it having more of a 1914 ending with a twist. Arkansas wins 13-7 and Ole Miss still probably plays with an ineligible player.