By 1971 Bill Montgomery had come and gone, "The Big Shootout" was over, and the Razorbacks were in need of a new quarterback to lead them in what they hoped would be a continuation of the '60s. Arriving in 1969 (although freshmen couldn't play varsity back then) he played as a sophomore in 1970. In 1971, he would take over the helm as a starting junior quarterback from Shreveport, Louisiana known for his passing and would leave as a record holding legend.
Born on April 23, 1950 in Alvin, TX, Joe Ferguson came to Fayetteville after leading his Shreveport Woodlawn High School team to the 1968 Class AAA high school state championship. At the time, Class AAA was the top classification for football in Louisiana. On his way to the state championship, Ferguson had become known for shattering national high school records in passing.
In a game played on October 30, 1971, Ferguson would again continue his passing ways and place his name in the record book as he threw for a Razorback school record of 345 yards against Texas A&M. This record would stand for 26 seasons until it was finally broken by Clint Stoerner with 387 yards on November 28, 1997, in a game at LSU. The A&M game was played in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium before a crowd of 54,446 cheering Hogs. While breaking the record, Ferguson had gone 31 for 51 in a game that would see the Hogs go down by a score of 17 to 9. Their only other loss, prior to this, had been one to a Tulsa team on September 25th by a score of 20 – 21.
It was an overcast October 16th day, when the #10 Texas Longhorns would arrive at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium to meet the #16 Arkansas Razorbacks before a sellout crowd. Kickoff was scheduled at 3:20 pm. There was a northeast wind of 4 mph, and a temperature of 75 degrees at kickoff. The weather was a little bit on the warm side, but other than that everything would soon be going Arkansas' way.
With 7:07 left on the clock in the first quarter, Jim Bertlesen put the Longhorns on the scoreboard first following a Dean Campbell 56-yard punt return ending a quick 7-yard, 3-play drive. This, however, would be the Longhorn's only score for the game as the Hogs would now begin their domination.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Arkansas would march down the field in a series lasting 3 minutes and 39 seconds. With 3:28 remaining on the clock for the first quarter, Arkansas would complete a drive of 75-yards, in 8-plays to even the score as Ferguson found tight end Bobby Nichols with a 5-yard pass completion to the endzone.
The second quarter would be owned by the Hogs as they would now drive 94 yards in 12 plays ending with a 10-yard run by Ferguson breaking the deadlock. After Texas went three and out, the Hogs would take over and score with only a minute and a half left in the second quarter. Ferguson would now take command of the situation by ending the 3-play, 59-yard drive when he cocked his arm and launched a 37-yard pass to wide receiver Mike Reppond. Without any hesitation, the wide open Reppond quickly scampered his way for six. It was a drive that lasted only 37 seconds and brought a close to the first half with a score of the Hogs 21 and Horns 7.
The third quarter would go scoreless until after having kicked extra points all day, it would finally end on the toe of Bill McClard. He would now find himself in position to finish off a 69-yard, 12-play drive by kicking a 30-yard field goal, and in doing so would only add to the anguish felt by the #10 Longhorns. The once high flying "Hook-Em Horns sign" now fell limp by their sides as the period ended and they found themselves going into the final fifteen minutes trailing by a score of 7 – 24.
During the final quarter and with only 3:22 left in the game, Bobby Nichols would again pull in his second TD pass of the day. The final score would come from a Ferguson 3-yard lob to Nichols. When the game ended the lights on the scoreboard would go out showing Arkansas 31, Texas 7 providing the first Hog football win over Texas since 1966. It was a day when the cardinal and white of Arkansas would overpower the burnt orange of a once proud Texas Longhorn team.
Texas would go on and win their remaining games only to lose to a Joe Paterno Penn State team by a score of 30 – 6 in the Cotton Bowl and end up with a final AP poll rating of #18.
Arkansas would end the season with a record of 8 – 3 – 1 while playing Tennessee in Memphis before a crowd of 51,410 at the Liberty Bowl. The Hogs, however could not pull this game out and found themselves on the losing side with a final score of 14 – 13.
The season was now completed for Ferguson and his stats would indicate 160 of 271 for 2,203 yards and a final AP poll rating of #16 for the Hogs. During his career, he would end up with 327 completions on 611 attempts for 4,431 yards and 24 touchdowns.
In 1971, he was selected as a member of the First Team All-SWC team, and as the MVP of the 1971 Liberty Bowl. Since then, Ferguson has been honored by selection to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor, and the University of Arkansas All-Century Team. In 1972, Ferguson played in the North-South Shrine Bowl, and in 1973 was selected as a member and played in the Hula Bowl celebrated on Honolulu.
Join us again next month as we reminisce with another tale about the Arkansas Razorback football team.