Arkansas football: Bobby Petrino's return to Razorback Stadium nearly one for the ages
For approximately 50 minutes of a 60-minute game Saturday, former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino had his Missouri State Bears in position to potentially pull off an upset for the ages. The Missouri Valley Conference team had given Arkansas all it could handle.
Petrino’s team was 10 minutes away from handing some Hollywood producer the script for an epic movie; one of those where you come away saying, “That can’t be real, it could only happen in the movies.”
But it was almost real. For 50 minutes it was very real. In the end, though, it was Arkansas’ insurmountable depth and talent that prevailed in the 38-27 victory at Razorback Stadium.
“Eventually they wore us down, made a lot of plays,” Petrino said after undefeated No. 10 Arkansas scored 21 points in the 4th quarter to overcome deficits of 17-0 early and 27-17 in the 4th.
And though Petrino’s upstart Bears, now 2-1, couldn’t complete the script, one of Arkansas’ most successful head coaches remained proud of his Missouri State team and the leadership it showed against one of the SEC’s best.
He should be proud. The Bears came in prepared. Prepared to win the game. Prepared to take on a Power 5, top-10 team on its home field and compete against it.
“We wanted to be tough,” Petrino said. “We wanted to match their speed and their physicalness. And for most of the night, we did a pretty good job of that. But nobody blinked. Our guys played extremely hard.”
A relieved Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman praised Petrino and the Bears for their efforts in his usual classy style.
“I want to congratulate Missouri State and Coach Petrino on a great game plan,” Pittman said. “He had his kids prepared more than I did. He did a wonderful job. We’re just so fortunate to win these games like this. … If you are not playing well or the other team is playing well, or whatever the situation is, you’re just trying to fight and claw and get out with a win.”
And that’s exactly what the Razorbacks did. It’s what great teams do, find a way regardless of any adversity.
“There were several different times in the game where it didn’t look like we were going to win,” Pittman continued. “Our kids just kept fighting and clawing, and to come out with an 11-point win, that says a lot
about the culture of our program and of our kids. I’m really proud that we won the game, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Were the Hogs lucky to win? No, they earned it. It took them a while, but they earned it.
Petrino’s Bears certainly weren’t intimidated by an Arkansas team that continues to impress the college football world with its upward trend in the SEC and the nation.
“The thing you always worry about when there’s a little bit of a mismatch in personnel is that we get a little wide-eyed and don’t really believe that we can play with them, and don’t believe we can win,” Petrino said. “Because then things happen that don’t normally happen. And our guys didn’t do that. They believed that we would go find a way to win the game.
“I was proud of our players; they did the best they could possibly do.”
And that was almost enough to pull off the shocker.
Only Petrino knows what thoughts ran through his head upon returning to Razorback Stadium. It had been 11 years since he returned the Razorbacks to national prominence, winning 10 and 11 games in his final 2 seasons, including a No. 5 national ranking in 2011 (his final season), the Hogs’ highest since Lou Holtz and the 1977 team finished at No. 3 after an 11-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory.
It was also just the 4th time in program history that the Razorbacks finished with a top-5 ranking.
It was obviously an emotional return for Petrino.
“I was very good at blocking everything out until probably after the game.,” Petrino said.
Emotions ran high as the coach reunited with some former players before leading the Bears into battle.
“It was fun,” Petrino said. “Those are guys I battled with before and won a lot of games with (at Arkansas). They put a lot of sweat and blood and tears on the field. So it was great to see them.”
But both Petrino and Arkansas have turned the page, going their own separate ways, and each currently is in a good position. Arkansas continues to rise in the Pittman Era, while Petrino raises the level of play at Missouri State, taking over a Bears program that went 1-10 and turning it into an FCS playoff team in each of his first 2 years there.
“I think we showed we’re a tough team, and we’ve got guys that are great competitors and love to play the game of football,” Petrino said.