By Craig Hayes
Late Saturday night as I was alternating between Missouri’s debut in the SEC and the “no defense allowed” game that was going on between UCLA and Nebraska, I gradually started directing my attention to the Arkansas, Louisiana Monroe game as the War Hawks, a full 30 point underdogs, were hanging tough with the Razorbacks and ended up driving to a potential game tying score with less than a minute to go in regulation.
Less than a half hour later, I was jumping out of my chair for a school who’s location I wasn’t entirely sure of and cheering for a player with perhaps the greatest southern quarterback name since Billy Joe Tolliver, Kolt Browning. A handgun for a first name and a rifle for his last, this kid was destined to be a dual threat quarterback the day that his parents christened him.
I know his name is “Kolton” and you don’t spell the Walker Colt with a “K”, but work with me here.
I had absolutely no stake in this game, no school affiliation, no geographic ties, no financial gains through possible illegal gambling. I have never set foot in Arkansas and wasn’t exactly sure where Monroe Louisiana was until I Googled it; it is in the Northeast section of the state, named after a steam ship paddle boat which was named after President Monroe. Got all that? Back to the game.
The War Hawks (I just love that name, and I will have a T-shirt or hat by Friday) were able to hang on against the number 8 team in the country and one of the top contenders in the best conference in the country for two reasons: one was the fact that Arkansas’ star quarterback, Tyler Wilson, missed the entire second half with an injury, and second was the all around brilliance of Browning.
He ran, he threw, he accounted for 481 of his teams 550 yards of offense. With 55 seconds to go and facing a fourth down and ten, he avoided the Razorbacks rush, scrambled right then threw back across his body to find Brent Leonard, who fittingly made a shoestring catch and just made it across the goalline for a 23 yard touchdown to force overtime.
After the ULM (I’m a fan- I can use the acronym now) defense held the Razorback offense to a field goal, Browning faced another fourth down at the sixteen yard line. Earning the Beaver Pelt Trader of the Week (Am I allowed to use that Clay?), and frontrunner for BPT of the year, ULM coach Todd Berry eschewed the short field goal and followed the creed of “He who dares, wins.”
Browning, now playing like a younger, left handed version of Brett Favre, dropped back and looked to his left, with nobody open, he shuffled over to his right, and as he told reporters after the game, “just saw a hole and took off.” He bolted for the right side of the endzone, outrunning the overpursuing Arkansas defense and dove across the pylon for the touchdown. Of course he dove, could this game have ended any other way?
And just like that, Louisiana-Monroe, a team that has never won a bowl game, a team that hasn’t even had a winning season since Ronald Reagan was beginning his first term defeated the number 8 team in the country.
The only thing that would have made this upset any better is if Bobby Petrino was still coaching the Razorbacks and had to witness this shocking defeat wearing his ridiculous neckbrace as former President and Arkansas native son Bill Clinton consoled his young mistress in the press box.
Mothers cried in the stands, the coach, in full Valvano mode, not sure who to hug, got a great big one from a State Trooper, and the players? The players had a look on their faces that could only be described as pure jubilation. It was a moment that I am sure will bring a huge grin to their face and a warmth to their heart every time they recall it for the rest of their lives. I know none of these young men, yet I am proud of them. I can’t fathom how their parents feel.
It was beautiful. It was college football. It was the reason why we love sports.