In a weird bit of college football synchronicity, Jacksonville State stunned Mississippi 49-48, leading some in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision world to remember back to a late summer day in 1992.
Crowe was the head coach at Arkansas and Nutt was a young assistant on the rise when coach Charlie Taaffe brought The Citadel into Fayetteville. The Bulldogs used their machine-like wishbone attack, led by quarterback Jack Douglas, to manhandle the mighty Razorbacks, 10-3, in a game that stood as the landmark I-AA/FCS upset until Appalachian State's 34-32 victory over No. 5-ranked Michigan in 2007.
The Citadel went on to beat South Carolina, another FBS foe, that year and finished ranked No. 1 in the regular season among I-AA teams. But such facts were lost on the decision-makers at Arkansas.
What made the loss to The Citadel loom so large is that the Razorbacks had a cantankerous athletic director named Frank Broyles. One of the legendary figures of the college football coaching fraternity, Broyles couldn't see how a team like Arkansas could loss to a little, military school like The Citadel.
Burning with anger, the hot-headed Broyles took an unprecedented step, he fired Crowe the next day, setting in motion the wheels that would bring former William & Mary coach Lou Holtz from the New York Jets to Arkansas by the end of the season.
That weekend served as probably the lowest point of Crowe's long and very successful career. It couldn't have felt much better to Nutt, but he was about to experience a similar punch to his gut as a head coach.
"Without a doubt, it's the worst loss of my career," said Nutt.
But for Crowe, who also lived through a 2009 campaign when one of the best teams of his long career was sidelined from the playoffs by Academic Performance Rate (APR) penalties, it was a sweet journey down Retribution Drive.
"If you stay in this long enough, it goes both ways," said Crowe, who grew teary eyed and struggled to maintain his emotions during the post-game press conference.
For 30 minutes of play on Saturday, the game on the picturesque Oxford, Mississippi campus seemed like most any other FCS/FBS matchup.
A forced fumble by linebacker Rodney Garrot (13 tackles, eight solo and 2.5 tackles for loss) that led to the Gamecocks only first-half touchdown didn't seem very meaningful as Ole Miss took an easy 31-10 lead and seemed well on its way to victory.
"It was clearly players taking responsibility about what was going on and we had a little mind-clearing at halftime because we weren’t playing physical," Crowe explained. "I think this is clearly the chemistry of people coming together that had worked so long, they were going to get something back."
Teams from the Ohio Valley Conference had dropped all 22 previous games to Southeastern Conference opponents since the OVC was formed in 1948 and had a 50-game losing streak against FBS foes since Eastern Illinois dropped Eastern Michigan, 31-28, in 2004.
The only pre-OVC win involving current members of the two leagues occurred when Southeast Missouri toppled Ole Miss in 1907 and the OVC was 17-130-1 lifetime against FBS competition.
It was Jacksonville State's first win against an FBS opponent since a 31-28 victory over Arkansas State in 2001, when the Gamecocks were still members of the Southland Conference.
The most impressive thing about Saturday's game was the never-say-die attitude of a Gamecock team that is every bit as tough as its veteran coach.
“Obviously, we are very excited about our situation right now and pleased that we were able to comeback and show the character that it takes to stay in the fight until the fight is over with," Crowe said. "I learned something about our football team that I didn’t know before we played. We’ve never at Jacksonville State, as long as I’ve been here, finished as strongly and had the resolve as we did in that football game."
There were plenty of opportunities for Jacksonville State to pack this one in, but instead the Gamecocks scored on six consecutive possessions, tallied five straight touchdowns and added a couple of pressure-filled two-point conversions to end the game.
Using two quarterbacks in its first game of the post-Ryan Perrilloux era, junior Marquis Ivory and redshirt freshman Coty Blanchard were a combined 22-of-34 for 252 yards and four touchdowns through the air as the Gamecocks closed out the fourth quarter by outscoring the Rebels 21-3.
Blanchard scored on a four-yard jaunt to make it 31-26 with six minutes, 17 seconds on the fourth-period clock to get JSU within striking distance. After Ole Miss responded with a field goal, Ivory fired a 19-yard strike to Alan Bonner with 18 seconds left and then found La'Ray Williams open for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 34.
It didn't take long for Ivory to strike again in the first possession of overtime as he connected for a seven-yard scoring pass against the tongue-dragging Rebel defense.
As this writer watched the contest unfold on Dish Network, I talked on the phone to a friend who is a die-hard Ole Miss supporter.
"If I were the Rebels, I'd go for two points if I scored right here," I warned my friend.
Ole Miss didn't take my advice when they pounded in a touchdown and kicked the extra point to make it 41-all and the Rebels didn't seem to need that strategy when they scored another seven points and forced JSU into a fourth and 15 situation from the 30-yard line in the second overtime.
But with the Gamecocks again on the ropes, Blanchard came up with knockout combination. The calm and collected youngster fired a laser to Kevyn Cooper in the back of the end zone and Cooper managed to get one foot down for the touchdown.
After a time out, Jacksonville State lined up for two points. The coaching staff had called for a shovel pass to running back Calvin Middleton from spread formation, but an Ole Miss blitz forced Blanchard to improvise.
Just before he was pummeled, Blanchard pushed the ball out of his hands on a waste-high throw that somehow found its way to Middleton at about the three-yard line. Middleton bulled his way across the goal line for the two-point conversion that led to pandemonium on the field and the release of 18 years of grief for Crowe.
"I just didn't think we could play defense again," said Crowe.
And with the way his offense came through in the clutch, the only reason the Gamecock defense had to return to the field was for a massive celebration.
"Hopefully, the thing that will carry us is that hard work and discipline is what gives you what you want every day," said Crowe.
THAT BISON DEFENSE IS BACK
It wasn't that surprising last season when North Dakota State struggled to move the ball consistently on offense in a 3-8 season. But what was shocking was the way that the Bison performed defensively during the humbling 2009 campaign, NDSU's first as a full-fledged Division I member.
If Saturday evening performance at Kansas is any indication, the Bison will be back to their trademark selves in 2010. Making the most of two Ryan Jastram field goals, North Dakota State pulled off the second FCS stunner of the day, beating the Jayhawks 6-3.
Jastram drilled a 44-yard field goal with 3:20 left in the second quarter to tie the game at 3-all at the halftime break. The redshirt junior, who is a transfer from New Mexico State, added what turned out to be the game-winning kick from 33 yards out with 8:04 remaining in the third period.
Even still, Jastram proved to be a surprising hero.
He had been just 1-of-4 on field goals and 6-of-6 on PATs last season as a backup kicker for the Bison, who picked up their fourth win over an FBS opponent in five years and their first-ever victory over a Big-12 opponent. He also averaged 59.7 yards per kickoff last season.
And the Bison's steady defense made that lead hold up.
North Dakota State was limited to just 163 yards of total offense, but the Bison made enough out of three Jayhawk turnovers to scratch out the win. Kansas was held to 293 yards, it went 4-of-15 on third-down conversions and its anemic attack was almost completely silenced in the second half.
Jayhawk quarterbacks were also sacked four times and harassed constantly.
Kansas kicker Jacob Branstetter missed two of three field goal attempts to lose his personal duel with Jastram.
Chad Wilson led the Bison defensive effort with 12 tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry, while Preston Evans added 10 tackles to go with a forced fumble and a tackle for loss.
Another challenge looms on the road for North Dakota State this weekend when the Bison enter Missouri Valley Conference play against perennial powerhouse Northern Iowa.
Few broadcasters had more fun during the first weekend of the season than Rene Ingoglia, who served as the color man on ESPN3 for Temple's 31-24 victory over No. 1-ranked Villanova Friday night at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field and then was in the UMass radio booth for the Minutemen's thrilling 27-23 victory over No. 4-ranked William & Mary on Saturday afternoon.
How is that for a way to start your season? And in the case of the Villanova-Temple contest, begin your television career.
"What a memory, to have a game like that in my first-ever game for ESPN," said Ingoglia, who was a two-time All-American as a UMass running back and finished fourth in the Walter Payton Award balloting behind winner Steve McNair in 1994. "I couldn't have asked for a better opening weekend."
Massachusetts proved it has the reinforcements to contend for a postseason with a stirring victory at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. Trailing for much of the day, the Minutemen overcame their share of devastating mistakes to rally for a key Colonial Athletic Association win.
After quarterback Kyle Havens missed a chance to give the Minutemen the lead on fourth and goal late in the third period, William & Mary struck for a 96-yard drive to take what looked like a clinching score when quarterback Mike Callahan hit Cameron Dohse for a 34-yard touchdown with 14:27 remaining.
Jonathan Hernandez and John Griffin combined for 212 yards rushing and Hernandez (132 yards rushing, 69 yards receiving) turned a simple swing pass and rumbled deep into Tribe territory to set up one of the Minutemen's two fourth quarter scores
A two-yard scoring plunge by Hernandez made it 23-21 with 9:40 left. Griffin then plowed in from the five with 3:23 left to give UMass it eventual winning margin.
William & Mary was moving the ball effectively on its final possession until a low Callahan pass went off the hands of Jonathan Grimes, allowing a diving Tyler Holmes to make a drive-ending interception.
BEAT THE CLOCK
Villanova may live to regret its time management at the end of the game as the Wildcats. Last year's win over Temple, combined with a one-loss CAA title, left the Wildcats in position to grab the No. 2 seed and home field advantage for the first three rounds in the playoffs.
'Nova took full advantage to win its first national championship.
When Villanova cornerback Eric Loper stripped Temple quarterback Chester Stewart of the ball and strong safety John Dempsey recovered the fumble with 2:17 remaining to set up Nick Yako's 41-yard field goal at the 1:51 mark to give the Wildcats a 24-22 lead, it was wildly reminiscent of last year's 27-24 VU victory.
Dempsey had an interception and fumble recovery that game to spark the late Villanova rally.
The Wildcats could have run the clock down to under 30 seconds this year and then had Yako come on for a field goal attempt, but instead they tried two unsuccessful passes by quarterback Chris Whitney after a QB draw to stop the clock.
But Talley was worried that the Wildcats were on the edge of Yako's range and the veteran coach wondered how much confidence his sophomore kicker had after missing two routine field goal attempt earlier.
"We really blew the game," said Villanova coach Andy Talley. "We probably lost the game because we didn't take any time off the clock."
The Wildcats also suffered some big time bad luck. With 1:16 remaining on the Owls' final drive, a Villanova injury stopped the clock automatically and helped Temple save 20 to 30 seconds — time that proved vital when the Owls eased into field goal range.
Though it was out of time outs, Temple made the most of its good luck and the poor Villanova clock management to put Brandon McManus into range to bomb his fourth of five three-point attempts from 43 yards with three seconds to play.
"I had the feeling (McManus) was going to make from wherever he kicked it," said Talley. "
Ahead 25-24, the Owls closed out the game with a touchdown when Justin Gildea recovered Matt Szczur's illegal forward lateral on the game's final play and dashed 26 yards into the end zone.
Szczur, in his first game back after his summer-long stint as an outfielder with the Chicago Cubs organization, showed little rust, nearing returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and finishing with 221 total yards, 165 on returns.
But it wasn't enough for the unlucky Wildcats.
"Hopefully, you learn from games like this," said Talley. "If we're in that situation again, we're going to run the ball three times and tell Yako to go in and win it."
The game was a big hit with the usually lukewarm Philadelphia fans, drawing 32,193 spectators on a night when the Phillies were playing baseball next door.
Temple coach Al Golden had one of the best quotes of the weekend when he described the passion of the Villanova series.
"There will be a lot of insignificant games played this weekend," Golden said. "This wasn't one of them."
PRESSED INTO ACTION
When Appalachian State began preparations for the 2010 campaign, Mountaineers coaches were quick to point out that they didn't need either DeAndre Presley or Jamal Jackson to win games for them at quarterback like two-time Payton Award winner Armanti Edwards had done.
But when ASU fell behind 35-14 to Chattanooga early in the fourth quarter of its season-opening Southern Conference game at Finley Stadium, Presley showed he is capable of picking his talented Mountaineer teammates up and carrying them on his proverbial shoulders.
Presley, in only his third college start, turned in a remarkable performance. He completed 22-of-29 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 11 times for 25 yards and two more scores as Appalachian State erased that 21-point deficit in a stunning eight-minute span of the final period.
Presley's final act in the comeback was one for the Mountaineer history books.
On a third-and-one play with just over three minutes remaining, UTC jumped offsides, giving the Mountaineers a free play. Presley fired a pass in the flat to Cline, who was hit hard by UTC's Chris Lewis-Harris and fumbled. But Presley scrambled to scoop up the loose ball and scampered through the Moc defense for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:54 remaining.
Presley also had touchdown runs of two yards in the first period and four yards in the fourth period and fired touchdown strikes of 14 yards to tight end Ben Jorden and was credited with a 33-yard TD pass to himself on the go-ahead score to finish with 365 yards of total offense in a key Southern Conference win.
The new ASU quarterback had some help in the end from a Mountaineer defense that stumbled for most of the game.
Jabari Fletcher, a preseason All-American who had yet to live up to his hype as the next in the long list of Appalachian State's seemingly endless list of great defensive ends, came off the bench to record two sacks, stripping UTC quarterback B.J. Coleman of the ball on the second and recovering to set up one of the fourth quarter scores.
Tony Washington also had a fumble recovery after teammate Karl Anderson forced a loose ball on a UTC kickoff return earlier in the final stanza to set up a touchdown.
But ASU still needed one more defensive play to secure the win. After Coleman scored on a quarterback draw from three yards out with 56 seconds to play, UTC decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion.
Having missed three of five extra points earlier, the Mocs didn't exactly have a lot of confidence left in its kicking game.
But three-time Buchanan Award finalist Mark LeGree ranged over from his safety position to knock down a Coleman pass to preserve the lead and Brian Quick recovered an onside kick to end UTC's hopes of an upset.
UTC is back into the fire this weekend when it faces Mississippi slayer, Jacksonville State. What a way to open a schedule.
A RECORD-TYING DAY FOR MONTANA'S DEFENSE
While many of the top teams where battling FBS opponents, or facing off with league rivals, No. 2 Montana was keeping with its own tradition and entertaining its usual Division II cream puff before a packed house at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Grizzlies had little trouble with Western State for the second year in a row, winning 73-2 in Robin Pflugrad's first game as Montana's head coach.
But Montana did manage to tie an NCAA all-level record by returning four interceptions for touchdowns, matching the feats established by Northwestern State in 2004 and Nicholls State in 2008.
With Montana leading 7-0 early, the Grizzly defense intercepted consecutive passes and returned them for scores in an 18-second period of the first quarter. Jordan Tripp dashed 22 yards with his TD return and Erik Stoll followed with a 34-yard jaunt for a touchdown moments later.
The Grizzlies grabbed their third pick-six of the quarter just over four minutes later when All-American cornerback Trumaine Johnson latched onto a Western State pass and scooted 18 yards to make it a 28-2 game.
Sean Murray allowed Montana to tie the game with a 14-yard interception return to cap off the scoring midway through the fourth quarter.
Fortunately, the game came to a quicker than usual end when lightning strikes stopped the contest with 5:30 remaining.
The hard-to-please Grizzly fans came away from the performance happy with a defense that forced five turnovers, but not so enamored with an offense that struggled at times against an overwhelmed opponent.
Montana quarterback Andrew Selle was only 4-of-11 for 123 yards, with two TD throws and one interception.
The Grizzlies, who inherited the No. 1 national ranking from Villanova, step up in competition this Saturday when they travel to San Luis Obispo to face Cal Poly in what has been one of the top intersectional rivalries in FCS.
That rivalry should only heat up with the announcement that Cal Poly and fellow Great West Conference member UC Davis will be moving into the Big Sky Conference with Montana, possibly as early 2012.