MEMPHIS — They call it redemption.
Junior Alex Tejada hit a 37-yard field goal in overtime to give the University of Arkansas a 20-17 victory in overtime over East Carolina.
The Springdale, Ark., kicker had missed a crucial field goal in Arkansas’ final game of the year at LSU, but stepped onto the frigid Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium turf to hit the game winner tonight.
"I felt confident that we would win in overtime," Tejada said. "It is pretty sweet. LSU left a bitter taste in my mouth. I handled it differently. I stuck with my technique and went out there and did my job. I felt confident in my swing all night. Even after the miss, I knew I would get another chance."
The win moves Arkansas to 8-5 on the season, and breaks a three-game losing streak at the Liberty Bowl. ECU finished 9-5 on the year.
"This was a hard, hard game, but we just kept battling," UA head coach Bobby Petrino said. "The key to the game was the way our defense gave us 10 points."
"I am very, very happy for our team and for our seniors in particular," he added. "But I’m very happy for Alex having the win. That’s a great way to end the season."
In a game dominated by defense early, then ECU’s ability to control the clock, the final measure of the contest became field goal kicking.
East Carolina’s Ben Hartman missed three field goals in the closing drives for the Pirates, including one with time expiring in regulation and one in the first overtime. Hartman hit the left upright, then drove the next two wide to the right.
"We were trying to keep them out of field goal range, but they did a good job of running out the clock," Petrino said. "We’re fortunate that he didn’t make those field goals."
"It hurts to lose this way," ECU head coach Skip Holtz said. "You take away the field goal misses and an interception mistake and we played a pretty perfect game. I wouldn’t change much about it."
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett was named the game’s most valuable player, throwing 15-of-36 for 283 yards. Mallett’s direction of the offense was marred by a 0-for-13 third down completion percentage.
"We didn’t execute well on third down," Petrino said. "We had passes we should have caught. We had some busted routes. They have a good defense, but we didn’t do our job."
"I’m not going to take anything away from them, they have a lot of seniors, but we never got into any rhythm," Mallett said.
ECU’s Dominique Lindsay was named the Pirates’ most outstanding offensive player, and it appeared his 33 carries for 151 yards and a touchdown was going to give the two-time C-USA champions the win.
His running set the stage for the final two regulation field goal attempt by Hartman.
Arkansas’ offense never clicked, but its defense was outstanding, accounting for 10 of Arkansas 20 points.
ECU took control early with a 10-0 first half lead, and quarterback Patrick Pinkney started moving the Pirates to begin the third quarter, but made his first mistake of the game with a poorly executed throw that Jerry Franklin exploited for his team-leading third interception of the year. His 31-yard interception return set the Razorbacks up for their first score of the night, a 25-yard field goal by Alex Tejada.
The Pirates gave up the lead on the next drive as Pinkney was picked by Tramain Thomas for a 37-yard touchdown. The Thomas interception was his third, tying him with his teammate Franklin. After the PAT, the Razorbacks tied the game at 10-10.
"The defense did a great job and got us some points to turn the game around," Mallett said.
Pinkney settled down and marched his team back up field, capping it off with a 14-yard strike to Dwayne Harris, to regain the lead.
Mallett directed another of his signature lightning drives, going 60 yards in two plays and 36 seconds to retie the game at 17-17. Mallett found Jarius Wright for the final 41 yards.
Arkansas looked like it was ready to take its first lead of the game as Broderick Green had back-to-back first down carries as the Razorbacks drove inside the ECU 30. The drive stalled at the 25, and Tejada came on for a 43 yard attempt into the stiff northeast wind. The junior pushed it wide right with 10:17 left
A frigid first half left the Arkansas Razorbacks’ high powered offense on the sidelines as the East Carolina Pirates managed two time-consuming drives for a 10-0 lead at intermission.
The Conference USA champions held the ball for 11:32 of the second quarter and took the lead to the locker room and had the ball to start the third quarter.
Razorback offense struggled for the opening half, failing to convert on third down on six tries and twice going for it on fourth down before converting on the third fourth down attempt. Unfortunately, the sole conversion was ineffective as it came as time expired in the first half. Arkansas managed to move the ball well, but twice had drives stall in ECU territory.
Meanwhile, ECU was 6-of-10 on third down conversion in the first half.
With a missed field goal by ECU in the first quarter, it looked as if the Hogs would be able to flex its offensive power in the second quarter.
Mallett moved the ball around on his receivers, using five different players on his first five catches. The Razorbacks struggled to run consistently on the Pirate defense.
Instead in the second quarter, the Razorback offense failed to fire with a combination of trouble moving the ball and watching the game from the sideline.
East Carolina took control by holding the ball on two lengthy scoring drives that combined for over 11 minutes of possession.
The first was a 99-yard touchdown drive capped by a three-yard run by Dominique Lindsay. Pinkney was 5-of-5 on the drive in the air on the 13-play drive.
After a short UA possession, ECU marched the field again, a 11-play drive that was highlighted by a 38-yard circus catch by Darryl Freeney. The 33-yard Ben Hartman field goal with just 53 seconds left in the first half sent the teams to halftime with ECU leading, 10-0.
East Carolina dominated the stat sheet, putting up 24 first downs to the Razorbacks 10. The Pirates racked up the first downs thanks to a 8-of-19 third down conversion rate.
The Pirates had 393 yards on 88 plays in the game. Arkansas had 283 yards, which was comparable, but made it on only 56 plays.
Green led Arkansas’ rushing with 11 carries for 50 yards, followed by Dennis Johnson with 28 yards on four carries. Wright had four catches for 90, followed by Childs with three for 32.
"This was a great bowl experience for us," Petrino said. "We got great practices in before we got here. We saw our team leadership grow. We did a good job of practicing here. Now we finish the game with a win."