The SEC's four five-plus overtime games of the last 20 years
This fall will mark the 20th season of college football’s “overtime era,” an era which began in 1996 when the NCAA instituted its overtime rules for the first time in history, forever putting an end to ties at the college level.
The overtime rules have been wildly successful in college ball, and they’re now universally accepted by players, coaches and fans alike. However, because games are now played until there’s a definitive winner and loser, some overtime games have gotten a little out of hand.
In the first 19 seasons of the overtime era, the SEC claimed four games that went at least five overtimes, with all four ranking among the 10 longest games in NCAA history. Because those games are such anomalies in the 80-plus-year history of SEC football, we’ve decided to relive the insanity that took place on those four Saturdays Down South. (See what we did there?)
Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56 (7 OTs) — Nov. 3, 2001
It’s amazing to think that a game with 114 combined points only produced 34 total points in 60 minutes of regulation time, but that’s exactly how this all-time classic game unfolded between the Hogs and Rebels. When Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning (then a sophomore and first-year starter) found Jessie Armstead for a game-tying touchdown late in regulation, few could’ve pictured the insanity that would ensue in an effort to break up the 17-all tie.
But insanity is the perfect word for the seven overtime periods that took place. The two teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, both stopped one another in the second, then matched each other touchdown for touchdown over the course of the next five overtimes. Rules state that upon reaching the third overtime, each team must go for two points following every touchdown, a rule instituted to make breaking a tie easier in later overtime periods. But even that rule couldn’t bring this game to an end.
Both teams failed on each of their first three two-point tries, each failing on at least one game-winning two-point attempt. The two teams converted their two-point tries in the sixth overtime, then after Arkansas converted again in the seventh overtime Ole Miss scored a touchdown and faced yet another crucial two-point situation. Manning’s pass was broken up, and after more than an hour of just overtime periods the Razorbacks came away victorious.
The numbers from this game are ridiculous. Manning threw six touchdown passes, and four different players between the two teams each rushed for at least 100 yards. The two teams combined for 998 yards of total offense and 198 plays from scrimmage on the day. What’s most bizarre is that this was the first of two seven-overtime games the Hogs would play in the 2000s, and we’ll get to the other in a minute.
Tennessee 41, Arkansas 38 (6 OTs) — Oct. 5, 2002
Remember how we said Arkansas would play in another seven-overtime game in the 21st century? Well, that wasn’t a typo that should have read six overtimes and referred to this game; the Hogs actually played this six-overtime contest with Tennessee one year after its epic seven-overtime thriller, and then a year after this game it would play that second seven-overtime game to which we referred above. Does that make sense? Good.
As for this game in 2002, Arkansas once again took a 17-all tie to overtime before a marathon of extra sessions resulting in 79 combined points. The Hogs trailed then-No. 10 Tennessee by 14 points in the middle of the fourth quarter, but scored two late touchdowns to force overtime, something it had become all too familiar with from the year before.
These overtimes were much more defense-oriented than the 2001 game, as Arkansas and Tennessee each scored only six points apiece in the first three overtime sessions combined. After trading touchdowns in the fourth and fifth overtimes, Arkansas kicked a field goal in the sixth overtime and knew it had to hold Tennessee to three points or fewer to extend the game.
Instead, Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen found future NFL Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten for the game-winning touchdown in the sixth extra session, ending yet another thriller in SEC country.
The offensive numbers from this game weren’t nearly as wild as the 2001 affair between Arkansas and Ole Miss. For instance, Tennessee ran for only 162 yards all game, only 33 more than their regular season average despite having six extra periods to add to their total. Clausen threw for fewer than 300 yards in the victory, and Arkansas’ rushing numbers took a major hit as well when star tailback Cedric Cobbs left the game with an injury in the third quarter.
Tennessee 51, Alabama 43 (5 OTs) — Oct. 25, 2003
As it turns out, the SEC does indeed permit teams to play five or more overtimes even if Arkansas isn’t involved in the game, although this is the only one of the four marathon games that didn’t include the Hogs.However, this time it was Tennessee who engaged in a five-plus-overtime affair for the second year in a row, and unlike Arkansas it managed to win both games.
As if the Third Saturday in October rivalry needed any more fuel added to the fire, this never-ending game certainly intensified one of the SEC’s all-time greatest rivalries. Tennessee was in the thrust of the successful Phillip Fulmer era, while Alabama was still aiming to compensate for NCAA sanctions handed down a year earlier, including scholarship reductions and a two-year bowl ban. Still, on this Saturday the playing field was even, perhaps too even for the good of either team.
The two teams were deadlocked at 20 at the end of regulation after Clausen found Troy Fleming for a one-yard touchdown connection to tie the score late, stalling the Tide’s pursuit of an upset. The two teams traded touchdowns in the first three overtimes, then traded field goals in the fourth to send the game to a pivotal fifth extra period.
Clausen plunged ahead for a one-yard go-ahead touchdown in the fifth overtime, and Tennessee followed that score with a successful two-point conversion to go up eight points and force Alabama to match in order to extend the game. The Vols’ defense then tightened up one final time, kept Alabama out of the end zone, and claimed victory for the Orange and White.
Once again, the offensive numbers in this game weren’t quite as gaudy as one would expect from a five-overtime thriller. Tennessee’s James Banks hauled in seven passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns, impressive numbers but nothing a star wideout couldn’t amass in regulation time on his best day. Williams ran for 166 yards, which is a little more impressive, but when again considering there were five overtimes involved it seems a bit less impressive.
Nevertheless the win was the Vols one of only three Tennessee victories in the last 13 years of this rivalry.
Arkansas 71, Kentucky 63 (7 OTs) — Nov. 1, 2003
Let’s bring Arkansas back in the picture, shall we? It’s not often an SEC team takes part in multiple six-plus-overtime games in its history, no less in a three-year period, but that’s exactly what Arkansas achieved with this 2003 thriller. The Hogs and Wildcats, which operated a high-powered Air Raid offense, combined to score more than 130 points in this game, and every last one of them was necessary.
Unlike some of the other games listed above, this contest featured some healthy scoring numbers in regulation, as the teams entered overtime deadlocked at 24-apiece. Arkansas possessed the ball with 1:30 left in regulation and two timeouts, all with the score tied, but it failed to put an end to the game right then and there. It would come to regret that shortcoming, even though it still came out on top in this game.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth overtime periods, matching successful two-point tries in the fourth and sixth extra sessions. The two sides also traded field goals in the third overtime, and they both failed on two-point attempts in the fifth overtime, mirroring one another’s every move.
Razorbacks quarterback Matt Jones found Decori Birmingham on a 25-yard touchdown connection on the second play of the seventh overtime, giving Arkansas a six-point lead. Funny enough, the Hogs converted the two-point try with a completion to Jason Peters, who has since bulked up and become one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles for more than a decade (the Hogs wouldn’t need the two-point conversion to win but it’s yet another interesting tidbit from this fascinating game).
On the ensuing Kentucky possession, quarterback Jared “Hefty Lefty” Lorenzen fumbled on a fourth and 3 try from the Hogs’ 5 yard line to end the game. Kentucky had to go for a touchdown trailing by eight, and the turnover sealed its fate at home.
This game spanned two days (it ended at 12:01 a.m. on the following Sunday), and lasted just four minutes shy of five hours. It featured six more points than Arkansas’ seven-overtime thriller in 2001, setting an NCAA modern era (since 1950) record for combined points in a game. Arkansas’ 47 points after regulation also broke an NCAA record the Hogs had originally set in 2001, and the 86 combined points in overtime between the two sides remains a modern era record as well.