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.