Rebels remember marathon battle
By By Will Bardwell/staff writer
October 25, 2003
To say no one was prepared for it would be an understatement.
But that is exactly what happened the last time Ole Miss and Arkansas squared off in Oxford. A game that began just after 6 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2001, took four quarters and seven extra sessions before the Razorbacks pulled out a 58-56 win in the longest football game in NCAA history.
On Saturday, the Rebels and Razorbacks will play again in their first Oxford meeting since that historic night two years ago.
While many of the players in the Mississippi Marathon have moved on, several key figures return to Oxford. Cutcliffe is back, as is Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, who called the 2001 game "the longest game in the world."
Both quarterbacks, the Rebels' Eli Manning and the Razorbacks' Matt Jones, are now in their third years as starters.
The two teams also return key linebackers Bua was the Hogs' leading tackler with 13 in the overtime game, and Ole Miss linebacker L.P. Spence had 10 tackles for the Rebels two years ago.
Even ESPN2, which aired the 2001 contest, returns to air Saturday's game.
The game may not have made it past regulation at all if not for a 13-play, 72-yard drive by Manning in the fourth quarter. A three-yard touchdown pass to Jason Armstead tied the game 17-17 after four quarters.
That's when things began to get interesting.
The Rebels and Razorbacks had their way with each other's defense in overtime. Arkansas' ground game exploited Ole Miss' weak run defense over and over, and Rebels quarterback Eli Manning sliced up the Hogs' secondary throughout the extra frames.
In the first overtime session, Ole Miss forced Arkansas into fourth down and one before Hogs running back Cedric Cobbs now a senior beat the defense for a 16-yard touchdown run.
On their first possession of overtime, Ole Miss moved to the 11-yard line before stalling. Two Manning incompletions led to fourth down and six, when Manning hit Armstead for a touchdown the first of five overtime scores for Manning.
Despite his heroics, the then-sophomore quarterback nearly fumbled away the Rebels' chances in the second overtime literally. After advancing to the three-yard line, Manning was caught behind the line of scrimmage and lost the ball.
A 35-yard field goal attempt by Razorback kicker Brennan O'Donahoe who now handles the Hogs' punting duties went wide right on Arkansas' next drive, and the Rebels postponed the inevitable.
The game continued for five more overtime sessions, and beginning with the third overtime, the teams were required to go for two after each touchdown. In the third, fourth and fifth overtimes, both teams failed to convert for two points following touchdowns.
In the sixth overtime, both teams came away with eight points, as did Arkansas to begin the seventh extra frame. Ole Miss answered with a touchdown, but when Rebels tight end Doug Zeigler was tackled two yards short of the goal line on the conversion attempt, the game ended four hours and 14 minutes after it began.
Bua's sapped body would not allow him to manifest that joy visibly, though.
Manning certainly did not celebrate, but did not feel the usual sting that accompanies a loss.