When it comes to modern football vernacular, it is common to hear coaches, fans and television commentators refer to a "Scoop and Score." In most instances, they are referring to a defensive player picking up a fumble or blocked kick and then running for a touchdown.
But for Arkansas’ trip to Tuscaloosa during the 1995 football season, the phrase would have a whole new meaning and become a footnote to one of the Razorbacks’ earliest signature wins as a member of the Southeastern Conference.
Arkansas and Alabama do share some football history. Legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant was a Fordyce (Ark.) Red Bug long before he was an Aggie or the coach of the Crimson Tide. Former Arkansas head football coach Danny Ford played for Coach Bryant at Alabama from 1967-69 and played a prominent role in the Razorbacks’ first victory in the series.
In 1992, Alabama came to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for the first matchup of the two teams as fellow conference members. The Tide won 38-11 on its way to a national championship.
The next two conference meetings didn’t fare much better for the Hogs with Alabama recording a win in Tuscaloosa in 1993 and narrow victory in Fayetteville in 1994, the centennial of Arkansas Football. Although the 1993 game was later forfeited by Alabama, when the Razorbacks rolled into Tuscaloosa in 1995, they were looking not only for their first win over the Crimson Tide in 14 tries but also to prove themselves.
For Razorback senior quarterback Barry Lunney Jr., the season hadn’t started as imagined. Lunney was supplanted as the starter at quarterback for the Hogs’ first game, but then was called upon to come off the bench in the season opener against SMU. Lunney rallied the Razorbacks in remarkable fashion and the Hogs appeared to be ready to win the game. But a fumble on the goal line ended the comeback bid, literally inches from the end zone at Cotton Bowl Stadium.
Lunney and his teammates were coached by Ford, a former Bama player and a national championship coach at Clemson. Ford was not only trying to give his players some confidence but a program some belief. Few people who filed into Bryant-Denny Stadium that day expected a competitive game, even fewer expected a Razorback win.
The victory would not be easy to come by. Arkansas held early leads of 3-0 and 10-3, but a pair of Alabama touchdowns and a safety had the Crimson Tide looking to be in good shape at 19-10. Razorback placekicker Todd Latourette kicked a field goal to cut the margin to six entering the fourth quarter.
With 3:13 left in the game, Lunney took the field again with another chance at a game-winning drive. Much like the season to that point, Arkansas faced adversity, converting a fourth down to keep the drive alive. Finally, the Razorbacks stood at the four-yard line with 10 seconds to play. It was fourth and goal and the game was on the line.
Lunney, a southpaw, took the snap and rolled to his left. The seconds ticked down on the clock as he looked for a target in the end zone. In this case, his target was wide receiver J.J. Meadors who was listed generously as 5-6 in the game program. As Meadors crossed the goal line and turned for the pass, Lunney delivered the ball low and hard in his direction.
Seconds later, Meadors bent his knees and fell to the turf as he cradled the ball just inches about the surface. TOUCHDOWN ARKANSAS!!
As Razorback fans began to rejoice, the Alabama sideline collectively bellowed to the officials that Meadors had trapped the ball. But the call did not change and the game still hung in the balance.
The game was tied 19-19 and Latourette needed to split the uprights with three seconds left in the game to ice the improbable victory. A snap, hold and kick started the Razorback elation again as Arkansas had the monumental win 20-19.
An epic celebration in the Arkansas locker room erupted and even the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Coach Ford couldn’t help but get a little misty eyed. It was a big win for this coach, this team and this program.
Only after returning to Fayetteville did the Razorbacks realize that some were questioning whether Meadors had trapped the game-winning touchdown pass. SportsCenter aired the play over and over again throughout the day. In fact, even a year later in the game recap in the Alabama media guide, the winning play was described "Meadors scooping the ball off the turf."
While some continued to debate, the Razorbacks used the play as a catalyst for a championship season. Arkansas went on to win the SEC Western Division and become the first SEC school other than Alabama or Florida to play in the SEC Football Championship Game.
Two years later, Arkansas pulled a similar comeback, this time with Anthony Eubanks on the receiving end of a Clint Stoerner pass for a late game-winning touchdown. In the process, Arkansas became the first team to beat Alabama on consecutive visits to Bryant-Denny Stadium since TCU earned back-to-back wins in 1955 and 1956.
On Saturday, Lunney, the winning quarterback of that memorable game, will return to Bryant-Denny Stadium, this time as the University of Arkansas’ tight ends coach. Chances are at least once during pre-game warm-ups, Lunney will peer over to that spot in the end zone and remember how the smallest player on the field made the biggest catch to help raise Arkansas’ stature in its new league. And for the record, it was NOT a scoop, but it was one important score!