Arkansas hung on to its bowl hopes on Saturday, despite an injury that limited quarterback Matt Jones and a late rally by a feisty Mississippi State team.
"We were fortunate," defensive end Jeb Huckeba said after the Razorbacks won 24-21. "When you play hard and give it everything you've got, good things happen. Then time ran out on them."
Two weeks ago Arkansas (5-5, 3-4 SEC) entered a three-game stretch knowing it had to win every game to secure a winning record and bowl eligibility. After beating Ole Miss at home on Nov. 13, the Razorbacks had to win a road game for the first time this season to stay on course toward their goals.
"I'm really proud of our guys," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "It took everybody on our sideline today."
It also took Jones playing through a pulled hamstring that kept him from being the dangerous two-way player he's been throughout his career. The Razorbacks successfully played down the injury throughout the week, but it was worse than they let on.
Nutt estimated Jones was playing at 60 percent, and it showed as Jones spent most of his game handing off and dropping back. He carried only four times, including two quarterback sneaks and one sack, as well as a touchdown that gave Arkansas a 17-14 lead.
"I really couldn't move much," Jones said. "I just tried to move around in the pocket and buy some time."
Jones still completed 18 of 27 passes for 215 yards. He did throw one interception with no touchdowns but he also turned 10 third- or fourth-down situations into a first down or a score.
"A special congratulations to Matt Jones," Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said. "He is a winner. He made play after play in tough situations."
He wasn't the only one. Tailback De'Arrius Howard ran for 128 yards and receiver Cedric Washington caught five passes for 101 yards. Linebacker Pierre Brown came through with several key stops and returned Elliott Harris' blocked field goal by for a 76-yard touchdown and a 24-14 lead in the third quarter.
The defense also held Mississippi State scoreless on a goal-line stand at the end of the first half and forced the Bulldogs to punt with 4:32 left in the game after a three-and-out on their final possession.
Now the Razorbacks face one more challenge on the way toward a winning record and a bowl: 14th-ranked LSU. However, the game is in Little Rock on Friday, where the Razorbacks are 17-0 under Nutt.
"The whole week, the coaches talked to us about winning this game so we could get on the bus to Little Rock with a purpose," Brown said. "Now it's time to get ready for LSU."
Copyright (C) 2004 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.