Hunter Henry, Alex Collins and the rest of their offensive mates gifted Arkansas Razorbacks fans with a play that they will remember for the rest of theirs lives earlier this season.
While I wouldn’t go as far to call “The Henry Heave” an actual miracle, it certainly is one of the grandest cases of a ball bouncing a team’s way in the history of college football.
In case you need a refresher, on a 4th-and-25 play with Ole Miss leading 52-45 in overtime, Henry caught a pass from Brandon Allen well short of the first-down marker.
In the throws of being tackled, Henry tossed a lateral over his shoulder 20 yards where his teammate Collins caught the ball on the bounce and rushed around the left end. Picking up blocks by Drew Morgan and Jeremy Sprinkle, Collins gained perhaps the most improbable first down in Razorbacks history.
A few plays later after a facemask penalty gave the Hogs more life on another fourth-down play, Allen threw his sixth touchdown pass of the day to Morgan to set up his own 2-point conversion tumble into the end zone for a 53-52 overtime victory over the Rebels in Oxford, Miss.
The victory made that play more than just a curiosity or a close call. It gave the Hogs inspiration when they needed it to finish off the season strong. It also put Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and kept the Rebels out.
With 46 receptions for 647 yards this season, Henry had the best stats of all tight ends in the country in most categories, but his split-second thinking instigated one of the most unbelievable plays of this or any football season. No doubt, it played a role in him garnering consensus All-American honors and the Mackey Award given to the best tight end in the nation each year.
“Just the presence of mind to give his team a chance on essentially a dead play,” said Houston Nutt, former Arkansas head coach and CBS Sports network analyst. “That’s something else, now. You don’t coach that.”
Former Razorback offensive tackle and three-year letterman Eddie Bradford (1952-54) said, “I’ve seen a lot of football over the years, but I haven’t seen anything like that. I don’t think I ever will again.”
A play like that one sparks every Hog fan to reflect on “the greatest plays” they’ve ever seen. While this subjective list can’t be called definitive, here are five plays that have to be considered when thinking about the greatest plays in Razorbacks history.
Lunney to Meadors vs. Alabama, Sept. 16, 1995
One of the toughest assignments in the SEC is beating Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It’s tough today, and it was tough two decades ago. So, it’s no wonder Barry Lunney Jr. and J.J. Meadors are still asked about their late-game play that gave Arkansas its first victory over the Crimson Tide.
Arkansas took an early 3-0 lead on their first drive, but Alabama held a 19-13 lead when the Hogs took over what would be their last possession at the 32-yard line.
Lunney, who has coached the Razorbacks’ tight ends the past three seasons, made three killer throws on the drive. The first gained 32 yards when he spun out of a sack and fired a completion to freshman Anthony Lucas. The next one was a 17-yard connection to Meadors on a slant to the Alabama 3. While the third was only a three-yard pass, it was the big one that tied the game.
Lunney rolled left to avoid the oncoming Crimson Tide rush and zipped a low pass to Meadors, who was running a couple of yards deep in the end zone parallel to his quarterback. While the pass was low and Alabama fans still believe Meadors trapped the ball, the touchdown still stands. Instant replay wasn’t used in those days, and watching the video today, it’s doubtful the call would be overturned. With the extra point, the Razorbacks posted their biggest victory of their four seasons in the SEC.
The win got the barrel rolling for what would be the first of only three SEC Western Division titles the Razorbacks have won as since joining the league in 1992.
Stoerner to Lucas vs. Tennessee, Nov. 13, 1999
Quarterback Clint Stoerner and receiver Anthony Lucas made great plays together for three seasons, but none stands bigger than their play to topple defending national champion and No. 3-ranked Tennessee in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The year before in Knoxville, the Hogs had the Vols on the ropes with a 24-21 lead in the final two minutes of the game when an Arkansas offensive lineman inadvertently stepped on Stoerner’s foot as he backpedalled after the snap. Thrown off balance, Stoerner fumbled when he lost the ball while trying to keep balance. Tennessee recovered the ball and quickly drove for a 28-24 victory.
In 1999, the tables were turned. The Hogs trailed 24-21 with 3:44 to play. Stoerner, who completed 18 of 28 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns including a 53-yard TD pass to Boo Williams, said the Hogs were confident when they took over the ball at their own 20, and while he had lived with demons from the previous year’s game, it wasn’t on his mind at the time.
“Man, I was focused on the task at hand,” Stoerner said. “I’m not saying the game from a year ago wasn’t in the back of my mind. It had been for a year, but I wasn’t the type of quarterback who could think about other stuff and perform.”
However, Stoerner said he had noticed earlier in the game when the Hogs had run a double post that the Tennessee safety had squatted hard on the route, looking for an underneath throw.
“That safety just about took Emanuel Smith’s head off, but he missed,” Stoerner said. “We didn’t go over the top a lot because I didn’t have the strongest arm. That’s why he was so hot for the underneath route. But, I knew if that play came up again I was going to Anthony.”
After the Razorbacks moved the ball to the Vols’ 23 behind the hard running of Cedric Cobbs, Nutt called the double post play again.
“When the play came in the huddle, I told Anthony I was going to him,” Stoerner said.
“It was just a perfect ball,” said Nutt, who coached the Hogs from 1998-2007. “Clint laid it right out ahead of Lucas as pretty as you would want. Great throw and catch. Big win for the Razorbacks.”
The extra point put the score at 28-24, the same exact tally from the previous year’s game.
“Kind of poetic, wasn’t it,” Stoerner said.
Arkansas’ defense bent but held the Vols on downs at the Arkansas 17. From the sidelines, you could see the emotion Stoerner was holding back as he downed the ball three times to run out the clock. Hogs fans felt the emotion too, and unleashed it, running onto the field, tearing down the south goal posts and carting them off to Dickson Street.
Jones to Birmingham vs. LSU, Nov. 26, 2002
“I remember that headline like it was yesterday,” Nutt said in a recent phone interview when discussing the “Miracle on Markham” play that sent the Razorbacks to their second trip to the SEC title game. “Jones to Birmingham to Atlanta.”
The Hogs trailed Nick Saban’s No. 8 LSU Tigers, 10-0, at halftime and 17-7 going into the fourth quarter, but the Hogs put themselves within striking distance on Fred Talley’s 63-yard touchdown run on a third-down draw.
LSU answered with a 29-yard field goal for a 20-14 lead with less than two minutes left in the game.
“It was a CBS game with all those long timeouts,” Nutt said. “[Arkansas quarterback] Matt [Jones] was on the exercise bike trying to stay loose. I walked over to talk to him about the situation. He just looked at me and said, ‘I got this coach.’
“I was thinking, ‘You do?’ He was like 2 of 8 on the day. I wanted to see some urgency, but that’s not Matt. He had ice water in those veins. Never seen one like him.”
As it turned out Jones did “have it.” With the Hogs taking over at their 19, Jones completed a long pass to Richard Smith to the LSU 31. After spiking the ball, the Hogs had 17 seconds left to work their magic.
“The mistake Nick made was rushing just three against Matt,” Nutt said. “You couldn’t do that. Matt would buy himself too much time. He went left and right and fired a perfect ball to DeCori. He hadn’t thrown a spiral all day. Man, alive, it was something else. Ice water, baby.”
Two LSU defenders covered Birmingham, but with his concentration locked tight on the ball, he pulled it in for the catch.
Benson to Carpenter vs. Ole Miss, Oct. 24, 1954
In 1954, Johnny Vaught’s Ole Miss program was rolling full steam with the Rebels ranked fifth in the nation. While Bowden Wyatt’s second Razorback team was undefeated, including the program’s first victory at Texas in 17 years the previous weekend in Austin, few felt “The 25 Little Pigs” even stood a chance against mighty Ole Miss, led by quarterback Eagle Day and fullback Slick McCool.
However, the Razorbacks’ quickness stumped the Rebels’ vaunted passing attack, and the score remained knotted at 0-0 until the final six minutes of the game.
The Razorbacks’ star was runner George Walker, but he was on the sidelines for the biggest play of the game that Wyatt sprung on the Rebels at just the right time. Buddy Bob Benson substituted in for Walker, also known for his passing ability, to throw the Rebels off the scent of the halfback pass.
“No offense to Buddy Bob,” said Eddie Bradford, who played tackle for the Hogs, “but George Walker was our best player. The pass has been so publicized that I feel George kind of gets looked over.”
But Benson’s halfback pass off sweep action to the weak side was the play of the game, and one of the biggest in Razorbacks’ history. Preston Carpenter, who was a first-round selection by the Cleveland Browns in the 1956 NFL Draft, slipped past Old Miss’ safety who bit on the sweep.
Benson’s pass hit Carpenter in stride 33-yard down the field, and the athletic end raced down the sideline the other 33-yards to complete the 66-yard play for the only score of the ballgame.
“The play and especially the victory was a huge confidence builder for us,” Bradford said. “We knew we could play with anyone.”
The game was played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, and legendary “Arkansas Gazette” sports editor and columnist Orville Henry believed that the victory was key in igniting a statewide passion for Razorbacks football that continues to burn today.
The Razorbacks finished 8-3 that season and won the Southwest Conference title, but lost 14-6 to Georgia Tech in the Cotton Bowl. The Yellow Jackets’ offensive coordinator just happened to be a bright young coach named Frank Broyles.
Interestingly enough, the departure of Wyatt for his alma mater Tennessee after just two seasons at Arkansas that January would eventually open the door for Broyles to take over the Razorbacks program in 1957 and build it into a national power in the 1960s. Based on Wyatt’s success as the Vols head coach, if he had an extended coaching tenure at Arkansas, chances are Broyles would have become ingrained as Missouri’s head coach or even moved on to a more prominent job.
“We all knew why Bowden left,” Bradford said. “He was such a great coach and leader. We all wanted him to stay, but understood why he had to go. Tennessee was home.”
Hatfield’s Kickoff Return vs. Texas, Oct. 17, 1964
No football season ever turns on just one play. Every play is important. However, some do stand above others. Some, like the ones considered in this story, stand the test of time and become iconic.
Arguably the icon of icons of Razorbacks football plays is Ken Hatfield’s 81-yard punt return for a touchdown in the Hogs’ 14-13 defeat of Texas at Austin in 1964.
Hatfield, who played defensive halfback from 1962-64, is humble as the day is long. He deflects all questions about himself to brag on his teammates. Speaking with him, you’d never know he led the NCAA in punt returns in 1963 and 1964, and still holds Arkansas records for most punt return yardage in a season (518) and for a career (1,153). Oh yeah, he also owns the best winning percentage of any Razorbacks coach at .760 (55-17-1) for his six-year stint from 1984-89.
As humble as Hatfield is off the field, he was just as electrifying that night in Austin. With both defenses holding sway through three-quarters of the first half, Hatfield and his blockers turned the game on its head in the kicking game.
“Ernie Koy, Texas’ great punter, probably got more foot into it than he wanted,” Hatfield said of the 47-yard punt that he caught at the Arkansas 19. “What I remember is a wall down the sideline as our men picked them off one after another. I think if you look back at the film, there’s five blocks where Texas players get knocked to the ground or out of the way.”
Razorbacks stars Jim Lindsey, “Light Horse” Harry Jones and Jerry Lamb all threw blocks to clear the way for Hatfield who shook off one tackler and juked Koy on his way the to the end zone.
In a 2004 interview with Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner who started at offensive guard, he credited Hatfield’s punt return for giving the Hogs confidence to knock off the No. 1 Longhorns.
“Scoring first really broke the ice,” Jones said. “We knew we could beat them, and beating Texas was really the pivotal game in our national championship run. It propelled us to the SWC title, an undefeated season and the national championship.”
Interestingly enough, Ken wasn’t the only Hatfield to make a key play in the ballgame. His brother Dick Hatfield, the long snapper, may have made the craftiest play in Razorbacks football history. Already set at the line of scrimmage, he noticed the Longhorns loafing to the sidelines and quick snapped the ball.
“He caught maybe 17 Longhorns still on the field,” Ken said with a laugh. “It was a smart, smart play. It wasn’t anything we had worked on in practice. It was all Dick being alert and smart. But, I’ll tell you this, all my teams had the quick snap, and it’s something we worked on and used over the course of my coaching career.”
Dick Hatfield’s clever play gave the Razorbacks a first down, and the Hogs drove to score the winning touchdown on Fred Marshall’s 34-yard pass to end Bobby Crockett.
Texas answered with a scoring driving to pull within 14-13 with time running low. Legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal opted to go for the victory — there were no overtimes in college football at the time — but Arkansas defensive end Jim Finch rushed through to pressure Texas quarterback Marv Kristynik, who threw and incomplete pass. The Hogs went on to shutout their final five regular-season opponents before beating Nebraska, 10-7, in the Cotton Bowl, which led to the football program’s lone national title.