Arkansas snapped a pair of losing streaks taking a 39-36 win over Florida Saturday in The Swamp.
Arkansas entered the game having lost six in a row and never won in five previous tries at The Swamp. The game ended in the first overtime when KJ Jefferson found Tyrone Broden for a 4-yard touchdown. Arkansas’ defense had limited the Gators to a 39-yard field goal from Trey Smack. An elated Sam Pittman was pleased to see the Hogs get the win.
“Florida has a really good football team,” Pittman said. “We knew coming in here they would be very physical, which they were. Billy Napier is a wonderful coach. Good friend of mine. I’m really proud of our team.
“In two weeks’ time a lot of stuff went on in the program, and the kids just stayed with us and stayed believing. I don’t know how many times we’ve come down here, but it feels good to be the first team to ever win here. It’s a big deal, and there ain’t but one first. Congratulations to Kenny Guiton. He did a great job. To have the most yards we’ve had all season in a bye week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday practice was a credit to him and the players and the coaching staff. Obviously, we’re really excited about the win.”
In the overtime, Arkansas got called for holding forcing a first-and-20 play from the Gator 35. Jefferson then ran for 20 yards to the Florida 15 for a first down. On the next play, running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders maintained his balance and ran to the 4-yard line for another first down. That is whey Jefferson hit Broden on a slant pass to end the disappointing results of the season.
“Oh man, we’re just so happy,” Pittman said. “A lot of different things. We talked about last week, two weeks ago, where we just couldn’t get anything going offensively. And the defense had a chance to rollover on the offense and they didn’t. They had a chance to quit on them, but they didn’t. With the special teams, they kind of outplayed us in the first half. We came back in the second half and kept us in the game in the second half.
“I told them you’re either quitting or fighting. That’s it in life. That’s it. You’re not gonna maybe one or maybe the other. You’re either fighting like hell or quitting like hell. I was really proud of them. Really proud of them. We fought. What a great game. I’m just fortunate to be on the winning end at the end of it. But that’s what I talked to them about. Talked about Kenny and Devon Manuel and Ty’kieast Crawford and guys who played today that hadn’t played in a while. They had some great minutes and played well.”
For Guiton his debut as offensive coordinator was incredible. Arkansas put up 481 yards of total offense, including 226 rushing. Sanders, playing in only his fourth game of the season, rushed 18 times for 103 yards for easily his best outing of the season.
“We tried to find out what we could do well,” Pittman said. “He brought a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of belief in the kids. A good coach gets his kids to play better than they are. Not as good as they are, better than they are. A lot of coaches have the ability to do that, and some don’t. Kenny is one of those guys that has that ability and kids want to play for him. They respect him, so they want to do well. You could feel it all week.
“Didn’t know if we were going to win or not, but Wednesday I felt like we were because fastball start, I thought the offense looked really good. I go down to the defense and Deke Adams and the D-Line and scout-team offensive line are locking heads and getting a lot done. I walked away and said I think we’re going to win. I just had a feeling. Just a belief in him. He’s got a swag to him and a charisma to him. The kids believe in him.”
Another big emphasis of Guiton was to get Jefferson back to being KJ. It worked. Jefferson finished with 20-of-31 passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns. H also rushed 17 times for 92 yards and a touchdown.
The way the game started it didn’t appear Arkansas would need overtime to capture its first SEC win. The Hogs got the ball first and drove 75 yards in seven plays with Jefferson tossing an 8-yard touchdown pass to running back AJ Green who scored untouched. On Florida’s first possession, cornerback Jaylon Braxton stripped the ball from the Florida player and raced 33 yards for a 14-0 lead with 11:54 remaining in the first quarter.
“How about the first drive?,” Pittman said. “That was incredible — ‘boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.’ And then Jaylon ripped the ball out and it’s like, I don’t know what it was, 12:30 or something left in the first quarter and we’re up 14 to nothing. We hadn’t taken much time. And then they outplayed us in special teams a little bit, had us in a short field, went right down and scored a couple of times. I don’t know that we could’ve scripted that any better.”
The Gators then scored the next two touchdowns to tie the game at 14 with 2:04 left in the opening period. Arkansas broke the tie with 4:39 remaining in the opening half when Cam Little hit a 37-yard field goal. The Gators battled back to tie the game at 17 with a 47-yard field goal from Smack with just 29 seconds left before intermission.
The Hogs stopped Florida on its first offensive possession of the third quarter. The Hogs then marched 57 yards on seven plays that saw the drive end with a 41-yard field goal by Little. That allowed the Hogs to go up 20-17,
On Arkansas’ next possession Green fumbled and Florida fell on the ball at the Arkansas 32. It only took the Gators one play to take their first lead of the game at 23-20 when Graham Mertz found leading receiver Ricky Pearsall for 32-yard touchdown with 1:38 remaining in the third period. However, the hold on the PAT was botched and that would prove huge later in the game.
The Hogs then drove 66 yards in 10 plays with Little booting a 22-yard field goal to tie the game at 23. The botched extra point immediately haunted the Gators. Florida didn’t waste any time driving down the field for a 34-yard field goal from Smack for a 26-23 lead with 7:58 remaining in the game.
The Razorbacks weren’t finished though. They took over at their own 17 with 7:53 left in regulation. It took 10 plays, but the drive ended when Jefferson raced 25 yards for a touchdown. The drive included some big runs by Sanders and three receptions by Isaiah Sategna. Jefferson’s touchdown run put the Hogs up 30-26 with 4:26 remaining.
However, the Gators proved they weren’t finished either. They covered 72 yards in three plays with Trevor Etienne running 26 yards for a touchdown with 3:02 left on the clock. That allowed the Gators to take a 33-30 lead. Once again though the botched extra point was about to haunt Florida again.
The Hogs then took over at their own 25. The Hogs drove down to the Florida 31 where they settled for a 49-yard field goal from Little to tie the game at 33 with 44 seconds left in regulation.
Florida had one last shot at winning it in regulation. However, a 44-yard field attempt by Smack was no good and the teams headed to overtime.