LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas’ hopes of a dream season ended before it even had a chance to face a team from the Southeastern Conference.
The eighth-ranked Razorbacks (1-1) were left stunned Saturday night as Louisiana-Monroe, behind 481 yards of total offense and four touchdowns from quarterback Kolton Browning, rallied from a 21-point deficit for a 34-31 win in overtime.
The loss ended Arkansas’ 20-game nonconference winning streak in War Memorial Stadium, and it threatened to send the Razorbacks’ season into a tailspin with a visit from No. 1 Alabama looming next week – a game that now appears to have lost much of its luster.
“Any loss is devastating,” Arkansas coach John L. Smith said. “Again, we still have the league in front of us. They’re all devastating, but we still have the league in front of us and that’s a positive.”
As stunning as the loss was, it was equaled by Louisiana-Monroe’s victory – considering the school was 9-15 the last two seasons under coach Todd Berry.
It also reminded the nation that the Warhawks (1-0) are no stranger to taking down the SEC.
The win is Louisiana-Monroe’s first over a ranked team since joining the FBS in 1994, and it is the school’s first over an SEC team since defeating Alabama in 2007. The Warhawks are 4-34 against the SEC, with their only other win coming against Mississippi State in 1995.
It is also the Sun Belt Conference’s first win over a top 10 team, and the league’s first over a ranked opponent since Troy defeated Missouri in 2004.
“It’s a great feeling; we feel like we deserve it,” Browning said. “We believed the whole time, and we’ve believed for two years that we could put something like this together.
“We knew this moment was coming.”
Arkansas was 21-5 the last two seasons and expected to contend for the SEC and national championships this season, despite the April firing of coach Bobby Petrino.
Those hopes appeared crushed in War Memorial Stadium by the unlikely Warhawks and in particular by Browning, who was 42 of 67 passing for 412 yards.
The junior finished with 69 yards rushing, the last 16 coming on his winding, game-winning fourth-and-1 scramble in overtime – capped off by his dive into the end zone that sent Louisiana-Monore’s players and coaches onto the field and left the Razorbacks crowd in stunned silence.
“He did a great job,” Smith said. “He made play after play after play after play after play. ... We couldn’t tackle him, we couldn’t stop him.”
The Razorbacks played the second half without first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson, who suffered a head injury after taking several big hits in the first half.
Wilson, who also missed the second half against New Mexico last season with concussion-like symptoms, was 11 of 20 passing for 196 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game at halftime.
The Warhawks trailed 28-7 midway through the third quarter before rallying behind Browning, who made his first career start in Little Rock against Arkansas two seasons ago – a 31-7 loss. Browning was 7 of 17 passing for 74 yards in that game, but he was seemingly unstoppable in his return to War Memorial Stadium.
Time and again, the second-team All-Sun Belt quarterback from a season ago escaped pressure from the Razorbacks and found open receivers. That included a 23-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-10 with 55 seconds remaining in regulation when Browning connected with Brent Leonard for a 23-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 28-28.
Leonard finished with 11 catches for 112 yards, and the Warhawks outgained Arkansas 550-377 in total yards. Louisiana-Monroe faces another SEC team next week at Auburn.
“The only way that this becomes real is if we play well again next week against a really good Auburn team,” Berry said. “We have our work cut out for us next week, and we look forward to a very difficult game at Auburn.”
The Razorbacks led 28-7 midway through the third quarter after freshman quarterback Brandon Allen connected with MeKale McKay for a 13-yard touchdown. Allen, filling in for the injured Wilson, finished 6 of 20 passing for 85 yards.
The Razorbacks had little offense after that, though they managed to take a 34-31 lead in overtime after a 37-yard field goal by Zach Hocker.
Cobi Hamilton led Arkansas with 99 yards receiving and a touchdown on six catches. The senior has eight touchdown catches in seven career games in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.
The Razorbacks started slowly for the second straight game, even with Wilson in the lineup in the first half.
Arkansas struggled at times in last week’s season-opening win over Jacksonville State, allowing 163 yards passing in the first half to the FCS Gamecocks. The Razorbacks’ defensive woes continued Saturday.
Browning was at the center of Arkansas’ frustrations, avoiding the Razorbacks time and again. His 4-yard touchdown pass to Centarius Donald put the Warhawks up 7-0 in the first half, and he closed Arkansas’ lead to 28-21 early in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Steed.