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Blocked FG Return Sparks Hogs Past Dawgs, 24-21
Starkville, MS – Arkansas’ LB Pierre Brown outraced the Mississippi State FG team 76 yards after catching a blocked FG attempt to put his team ahead 24-14 late in the third quarter. It was a 10-point swing as the blocked kick averted a 17-17 tie. Brown found himself in a perfect position as he caught the deflected ball over his shoulder on his way toward the far end zone. In an evenly played, hard-hitting game between two second division SEC West teams, the only major statistical difference was time of possession where Arkansas controlled the ball for 35:17. Arkansas QB Mike Jones, still hobbling from leg injuries suffered during the Auburn game attended earlier by CollegeFootballFan.com, led his team to victory by converting many critical third and fourth downs into first downs. His play helped his team to not only come from behind, but his efforts also controlled the clock after Mississippi State (3-7, 2-5) got off to a surprisingly fast start. A questionable call by the side judge before the end of the half thwarted a last minute Bulldog, scoring drive and set MSU Head Coach Sylvester Croom into his imitation of Joe Paterno! The call was a critical momentum killer for the Bulldogs. CollegeFootballFan.com added Mississippi State as it 93rd team toward the Goal with 26 now remaining as the 2004 season comes to a close. The game also marked the 12th and final SEC team to be seen by CFF. The SEC joins the Big East, ACC, Big 10 and PAC 10 as complete conferences seen by CFF.
MSU got off to its quick start with an 80-yard scoring drive on its first possession. The drive culminated with a 5-yard scoring run by RB Jerious Norwood of Brandon, MS, who compiled 109 yards on the day to surpass 1,000 on the season. PK Keith Edwards converted and MSU took an early 7-0 lead. The Dawgs doubled their scoring total on their very next possession when QB Omarr Conner fired a 26-yard scoring strike to Tee Milons for an early 14-0 margin. Even some Bulldog fans admitted to be shocked, as their Bulldogs were 10-point underdogs coming into the game. Arkansas’ offense woke up on its next series with a 42-yard FG off the foot of PK Chris Balseiro to close out the Q1 scoring at 14-3.
During the Razorbacks’ next series, Jones (18 for 27 for 215 yards) completed a 44-yard pass to the MSU two. TB De’Arrius Howard (125 yards on 29 carries) finished the drive for the final two yards and closed the gap to 14-10. U of A forced the Dawgs to punt after three downs on their next possession and took over from their own 34. Jones demonstrated his leadership as his line provided great pass protection as they converted one third and long and three fourth down situations into first downs. The Razorbacks got to the MSU two-yard line with the help of an interference call from where Jones ran through a big hole over left guard for six more as Arkansas took the lead at 17-14 with 2:02 remaining in the first half. The Dawgs didn’t back down, however. Starting from the 15, as MSU fan Jerry pointed out that they usually never get beyond the 20 on returns, MSU connected on two consecutive passes to get near midfield. On the 2nd reception, the MSU TE Eric Butler was clearly knocked out of bounds which should have stopped the clock, but the side judge signaled to allow the clock to run with :25 remaining. Mississippi State had to burn its final time-out of the half, which turned out to be costly for the team that lost to 1AA Maine earlier in the season. On the next play, Conner found WR McKinley Scott (111 yards on 7 receptions) with a pass at about the one-foot line where he went out of bounds. A running play was stopped for a loss and then a second pass play went out of bounds inside the one once again. A run was stopped again, and as MSU wildly scrambled to get off another play from scrimmage, time expired with the ball inside the one as the referee stood over the ball allowing the clock to expire! Croom went into his JoePa imitation as he chased officials downfield toward the locker room to voice his displeasure as the teams left the field for halftime. An 84-yard drive resulted in no points. Jerry asked if the SEC refs are as bad as the Big Tens’. We feel that there are no refs worse than the Big East’s!
Prior to the game, Mississippi State honored two local heroes. The crowd cheered Mississippian Thomas Hamil, a civilian contractor who escaped his Iraqi captors during the war, along with his family as he held up and waved an American flag. Former MSU baseball player, probable future Hall of Famer, and Viagra promoter, Rafael Palmeiro, was also introduced and honored for his monetary and fundraising contributions to build a new indoor baseball practice facility on campus. The Palmeiro Center will also be used for football practice during inclement weather. Jerry reminded me that Will Clark and Bobby Thigpen also came out of the MSU program. A beautiful baseball facility that rivals many minor league operations sits close to Davis Wade Stadium on campus. At halftime, the Maroon Band honored the American Armed Forces with patriotic and military marches. A flyover by three military aircraft flown by MSU grads completed the halftime festivities.
In Q3, Mississippi State took possession at its own 42 after a poor punt by Arkansas. Held to a fourth down at the U Of A 20, Edwards came in to tie the score with a FG! What seemed automatic became the turning point of the game. Thud! His kick was low, blocked, and deflected directly into Pierre Brown’s hands for an Arkansas touchdown. Brown couldn’t have been in a more perfect position with nothing but green grass ahead of him. The Razorback lead was 24-14 with 4:25 left in the third period. MSU thwarted Arkansas on a fourth and two situation at their own 29 where they took the ball back on downs as the third period ended.
The Dawgs put together a drive to get to the Arkansas two-yard line. Conner faked a dive to the TB left, reversed field and lofted a touch pass to TE Eric Butler for a two-yard TD pass to close the gap to 24-21. 10:44 remained on the clock. Arkansas responded with a drive using up a lot of time once again as Jones converted on two third situations. On fourth and five at the MSU 22, his pass was intercepted by SS Darren Williams, who should have just knocked it down. Aside from the blocked FG, it was the only turnover on the day. The Dawgs started from their own 17 with 5:38 left, but punted after three plays and no first down. The Hawgs started from their own 38. On a fourth and three, Jones completed a six-yard pass to retain possession. Had the DB played the ball instead of the man, Mississippi State might have had the ball back. U of A converted on another third and long, and then with :23 remaining in the game, TB Decori Birmingham took the ball all the way down to the MSU two. Coach Houston Nutt let the clock expire, and the Razorbacks won 24-21 to even their record at 5-5, 3-4 in the SEC. A win against LSU next week in Little Rock would make them bowl eligible (I hate that term! It makes every 6-5 look deserving of a bowl game even though the numbers indicate mediocrity.) State travels to Oxford next week to scramble with Ole Miss, also 3-7 and 2-5 in the SEC West, in their traditional Egg Bowl finale.
Extra Points: CFF flew down to Jackson on a Song Airlines 757 in which each seat had its own TV screen. Much to our happiness, ESPN Classics was one of the channel choices. In tune with Rivalry Week, we saw the Auburn-Alabama game of 1986 and part of the Ohio State- Michigan game of 1990. I could watch those re-runs all the time, but between live games weekly and ESPN college classics every night, marriage would be over! The ads during the show prompted me to find a Sports Bar that evening for dinner (Lager’s, next to the hotel) to watch the highlight film of Notre Dame’s 1966 9-0-1 national championship season. I always remember being 10 at that time and going to my grandmother’s to watch the “game of the century” between Notre Dame and Michigan State because she had the color TV set! I noted it at the time back then that I would always remember that game as some kind of benchmark for the rest of my life. In fact, during the show, I noted that they never mentioned that star running back Nick Eddy missed that game. I recall that he supposedly fell off the train arriving in East Lansing! I remember that. What I totally didn’t realize, however, was that ND shut out 6 of the 10 teams that it faced that year. Purdue was tough for the Irish in the first game and score the most with 14 points. Navy scored 7on a blocked punt. Oklahoma and USC were shutouts on that schedule as was 8-2 Army. Michigan State also ended up 9-0-1with Bubba Smith at DE! Northwestern also scored 7. That was back when the Irish didn’t go to bowl games, but they still ended up as national champions.
It's very rare that two 1Aa teams play without TV coverage, but there was none here. It defeinitely makes for a better game to attend no matter who's playing. Later that evening, we saw Ole Miss fall on local TV to LSU while having dinner at Headliners in Jackson.
Watching MSU Coach Sylvester Croom not only reminded us of JoePa chasing down the refs against Iowa two yeas ago, it makes one realize what great shape Joe was (is) in for his age. Croom’s 50, but JoePa was age 75 at the time. The nimble QB from Brown can still definitely outrun the former Alabama center! Joe shook his finger a lot more though. You can’t tell if he’s scolding or signaling #1! If you note the pose of his statue next to Beaver Stadium, that’s him chasing down those Big 10 refs.
Pre-game breakfast was at the local Chick-fil-a. That’s a big bowl sponsor so we figured that was appropriate. We don’t know of any in Jersey. When we visited Auburn last month, we were sure to stop for lunch at the Varsity in Atlanta on the way back to the airport. We have to revel in Southern traditions and hospitality while we’re there! When in the South…
Remember that song “Uneasy Rider”, where in the end the rider figures next time that he’ll “go to LA, via Omaha”, as opposed to going through Jackson, MS. Well times have changed in Jackson as they have in the rest of the country. That’s good, and in a way, that’s bad. I’m sure that Jackson, like most large towns, has its seedier side, which we didn’t get to see. But when we fly to these different places, it’s amazing how one place looks just like another. Between Wal-mart, Home Depot, Office Max, Outback, Old Navy and all the other chains of hotels, motels, fast foods and gas stations, if they blind-folded you and took you off a plane without telling you where you were, you couldn’t tell Jackson from Raleigh from Houston from Kalamazoo to any where else! Not too many places in this country seem that unique anymore (maybe Vegas, but everyone else has all those neon lights at night, too). You have to dig deep to find the underlying personality of a city. So many people have seemed to have moved from somewhere else as well. Not only from within the county, but from outside our borders as well. Who doesn’t have Chinese restaurants, Indian doctors and Mexican laborers? The country is becoming so uniform throughout now. Not good, not bad, just an observation.