Ole Miss’ national title hopes were shattered mere inches from the goal line in the south end zone of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2014. Saturday night, in that same end zone, they were shattered again.
The game was essentially over. Ole Miss was going to win and stay in the SEC west race. They had to make one play, one stop. It was fourth and 25 from the 40 for Arkansas in the first overtime session. They had to reach the Ole Miss 15 or the game would be over. It would be nearly impossible for the Razorbacks.
Until it wasn’t.
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen, who had the best game of his Razorback career Saturday, rolled left. He threw right. Hunter Henry caught the pass, 10 yards away from the line to gain. The Rebels’ defense tried to tackle him. Realizing he couldn’t get tackled with the ball, Henry threw a lateral pass backwards 15 yards to Arkansas’s starting running back, Alex Collins. Collins took the ball down the Razorback sideline to the Rebel 11-yard line.
“We talked to them about razzle-dazzle on that play. We talked to them about staying with their man. We told them some type of lateral would happen on that play,” Dave Wommack, Ole Miss defensive coordinator, said. “It happened.”
“He just tossed the ball back,” senior safety Trae Elston said. “You’ve got to run to the ball. That’s what we preach, ‘run to the ball’, and a lot of people were just lollygagging around.”
Ole Miss still had a chance to stop Arkansas’ offense and come off the field victorious. Arkansas scored two plays later, negating that opportunity.
Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema had a decision to make after the score. He could kick the extra point and head to a second overtime period, or he could go for two and the win. He chose the latter.
Allen took the snap. He rolled right. He was stopped short. Sophomore defensive end Marquise Haynes wrapped him up. The game was over.
Until it wasn’t.
Haynes unintentionally grabbed Allen’s face mask on the tackle. The officials saw it. They threw a flag. Arkansas would get another play.
“We thought we had the game won and then that face mask call,” Elston said.
“That stunk at that time,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “But it looked like it was the right call.”
When Allen took the snap and fell into the end zone on the next play, the game was over, along with Ole Miss’ national title chances and being in control of their own SEC west destiny. There would be no more crazy, wacky plays. There would be no more chances for the Rebels. It was over. That was it.
Ole Miss is still mathematically alive in the SEC West. They need to win out. They need Arkansas to lose a game. They need Alabama to lose an SEC game. They need help. They don’t control their own destiny anymore. Improbable conversions and ill-timed penalties made sure of that.
“If it works out for us, cool,” Breeland Speaks, defensive lineman, said. “If it doesn’t, cool.”