MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — KJ Jefferson passed to Rashod Dubinion for a 2-point conversion in the third overtime and Arkansas held off a furious second-half rally by Kansas for a 55-53 win the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Wednesday night.
The Jayhawks had rallied from 25 points down in the second half to force overtime. In the third extra period, a failed 2-point conversion pass from Jason Bean to Lawrence Arnold ended a four-and-a-half hour marathon.
“We got lucky at the end, but we’re Liberty Bowl champs and I’m pretty excited,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said.
Arkansas (7-6) celebrated the win prematurely in the second overtime after stopping Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels just shy of the goal line on a 2-point conversion try. But a targeting call on Arkansas’ Quincey McAdoo gave the Jayhawks another try, and they converted.
Jefferson passed for 287 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 130 yards and two more scores to lead the Razorbacks.
Arkansas and Kansas met for the first time in 116 years, and the Razorbacks used an old-school rushing attack to prevail. Arkansas gained 394 of its 681 total yards on the ground. Rashod Dubinion added 112 yards for the Razorbacks.
Kansas (6-7) played in its first bowl game since 2008, but was unable to stop a late-season streak in which they lost seven of their last eight games. Daniels passed for 544 yards and five touchdowns. He set Liberty Bowl records for passing yards, touchdown passes, completions (37) and total TDs scored (6).
Arkansas was dominating despite playing with a roster thinned out opt-outs and transfer portal departures. The Razorbacks dressed only 51 scholarship players.
After leading 31-13 at halftime, Arkansas pushed its advantage to 38-13 midway through the third quarter on a 2-yard run by Dubinion. The TD ended an 80-yard drive.
The 25-point deficit ignited the Jayhawks.
During a span of eight seconds in the first quarter, Arkansas scored twice to erase a 7-3 deficit and take a 17-7 lead. An Arkansas interception about two minutes later near the Razorbacks’ 10-yard line ignited a 73-yard scoring drive that ended on a short touchdown run by Jefferson for a 24-7 lead. Arkansas led 38-13 late in the third before Kansas rallied.
Arkansas begins its fourth season under Pittman against Western Carolina on Sept. 2.
Kansas opens Lance Leipold’s third season, also on Sept. 2, at home against the Missouri State.