FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Senior Casey Dick erased every one of his significant career statistics as the veteran quarterback led the University of Arkansas to a 28-24 victory over Western Illinois in season opener for the football Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The win gives Bobby Petrino his first career win as the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, 1-0. The season opener for both teams dropped WIU to 0-1.
"They (Western Illinois) played us a lot closer than we anticipated," Petrino said. "Hats off to their players and coaches for coming in here and fighting, and our thoughts and prayers certainly go out to Coach (Don) Patterson."
Western’s head coach Don Patterson was unable to attend the game as he is undergoing treatments for tonsillar cancer. Offensive coordinator Mark Hendrickson guided the Leathernecks in Patterson’s absence.
For three quarters, the game was a battle of Western’s ground game, led by senior Herb Donaldson and the multiple attack of Arkansas commanded by Dick.
"We need to stop the run," Petrino said. "We had some problems with that tonight. WIU executed their game plan well. We just had to fight through it."
In the end, it was the Arkansas quarterback who prevailed, leading the Razorbacks on a game winning drive in the final minutes of the game.
"We learned a lot about our team tonight," Dick said. "We knew that we had to pull this one out. We’ll take this game and we will learn from it. I think we will grow as a team."
Dick threw for 25 of 41 for 318 yards and two passing touchdowns. He also finished with 12 yards rushing, a stat that seemed less significant due to sacks taken in the first half.
He became only the 10th Razorback player to throw for over 300 yards, the first since Clint Stoerner in 1999.
He accounted for all four of Arkansas scores, two by air and two by land.
"He used his legs some tonight," Petrino said. "We’ve been preaching the run to him, especially with the look Western Illinois was giving us."
His clutch plays in the final drive of the game for Arkansas showed the balance of the new offense for Arkansas.
A pair of 20-plus yard passes early in the drive set the stage. The senior calmly converted on a fourth down, hitting Carlton Saulters for 11 yards to put the Razorbacks at the Western 22.
Another completion put Arkansas in the red zone, where Dick rushed for his second touchdown of the night. The four-yard run gave Arkansas its first lead of the game at 28-24 with 1:49 left to play.
Western relied on its powerful ground game to grind up the clock, but when faced with the need rally in the final seconds could not generate any offense.
The Arkansas defense held WIU on the Leathernecks final possession, avoiding the upset at the hands of the top 25 ranked member of the Football Championship Division.
For the game, Arkansas utilized eight different receivers led by Greg Childs with 88 yards off six catches. D.J. Williams had five catches for 45 yards. De’Anthony Curtis led the Arkansas ground game with 36 yards on six runs.
Arkansas finished the game with 394 total yards to 262 for WIU.
Before the winning drive, Dick marched Arkansas down the field on nine plays, with a pair of 20-plus yard completions including the scoring strike to Greg Childs of 26 yards, to bring the Razorbacks back to within three, 24-21.
The Leathernecks rushed for a total of 157 yards, and almost as important used that ground attack to chew up almost 37 minutes of clock.
Donaldson ended the game for WIU with 157 on 35 carries, which equaled the total net yardage by the Leathernecks. The power back had 35 of the 46 carries by WIU.
The opening drives of the second half ended with scores against type as Western’s rushing leader had a touchdown reception and Arkansas’ quarterback rambled into the endzone for six.
The Leathernecks took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 10 plays for a touchdown, capped with a 12-yard scoring reception by Donaldson.
The 17-7 lead didn’t last for long as Arkansas went 80 yards in eight plays, capped by a 23-yard run by Dick. It was the first career rushing touchdown for Dick, and the longest rushing play of his career.
The first half was a battle of air versus ground as Arkansas’ Dick went 10-of-18 for 110 of the Razorbacks’ 144 first-half yards. Western countered with Donaldson grinding out 88 of the Leathernecks’ total 126 yards on 16 carries.
Trailing 3-0 early, Dick got the Arkansas offense on stride midway through the second quarter, completing three straight passes over 10 yards to three different receivers to put the Razorbacks in the red zone for the first time. The Allen, Texas, senior closed out the drive with a 10-yard strike to Little Rock true freshman Joe Adams to put the Arkansas head for the first time, 7-3.
Western countered with the longest drive of the first half, an 11-play, 76-yard effort fueled by their senior tailback Donaldson. The St. Louis, Mo., senior carried it in the final three yards to put WIU back on top, 10-7, with 4:49 left in the half.
Neither team could sustain a drive in the opening quarter, but the Leathernecks managed to take the early lead off a 42-yard field goal from Taylor Rowan. Rowan’s kick redeemed an early miscue as WIU’s holder fumbled the snap on the opening drive of the game.