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Under Houston Nutt, the Hogs came into Shreveport having previously appeared in five straight bowl games and sporting an 8 - 4 season record (same as Missouri). They were going up against Gary Pinkel's Tigers for their first bowl appearance under Pinkel. The game would be played before a crowd of 49,625 excited fans at 6:30 CST on December 31, 2003 . Being only 30 miles from Arkansas, the stadium had a definite red tint since the crowd was heavily in favor of the Hogs.
Surprisingly, the leading scorer for the game would be the toe of placekicker Chris Balseiro as he set an Independence Bowl record of four field goals. Kickoff temperature was 50 degrees with a 5 mph (varying up to about 8 mph) wind out of the SSE. As a result, the weather would not play a part in the outcome of the game.
These were many of the players that fans had seen the year before at "the Miracle on Markham". Decori Birmingham, Richard Smith, Cedric Cobbs, Matt Jones, and many more would put their fingerprint on this game. This would be only the second win in twelve previous bowl game appearances for the Hogs and it would require two fourth and one stops (one at the goal line) to pull it off.
The game started with Missouri kicking off to Cedric Washington at the four. Washington returned the ball to the 29. The offense took the field and on first down quarterback Ryan Sorahan passed to George Wilson for 17 out to the 46 yard line. Cobbs follows up and goes for ten to the Tiger 44. Cobbs then rushes the middle for nine, followed by another carry for six. On the next play, Washington loses two going right. At the next snap, Sorahan passes for 11 to Jason Peters. It was now third and one at the Tiger 28, Cobbs goes for no gain. Fourth down comes and Cobbs carries up the middle for five. On first and ten, Cobbs carries for one. Sorahan now passes right to Richard Smith for five. On third and four, Cobbs goes right but only gains one yard. Not enough for a first down. Balseiro comes in and makes the first of his four field goals for the day from the Missouri 16. Arkansas strikes first on its first possession. Hogs 3, Tigers 0.
"Arkansas strikes first on its first possession"
Washington would take the kickoff two yards deep and return it to the 23 yard line. Matt Jones would come in at QB and quickly passes right for six to George Wilson. After an incomplete pass and a ten yard penalty on third down, Jones would rush for nine. Fourth down found Jacob Skinner punting from the Hog 28. Missouri would make the fair catch at midfield.
Their possession would be short lived as Missouri would go three and out. The Hogs would start at the two, once again with Jones at QB. Jones opened up with a pass to Smith for 16. Three consecutive rushes by Cobbs would take the Hogs to the Razorback 41. With a second and three, Birmingham would carry for five and another first down. On first and ten, Jones passed up the middle to Steven Harris for 13. Following an incompletion, Birmingham would go for 14, followed by Cobbs for 6. The quarter would end with the Hogs at the Tiger 21.
The second quarter began with a couple of incompletions by Jones, two carries by Birmingham, and one by Cobbs to the Tiger 11. Balseiro again came in and tacked on his second FG making the score 7 - 6. This would be Missouri's last lead for the game.
After the touchback, Missouri now started at the 20. Following a 9 play, 24 yard drive, Missouri's offense would leave the field following a bad snap to punter Brock Harvey which sailed over his head and was recovered by D'Arrius Howard at the Tiger three yard line.
With ten minutes left in the half, Howard would rush for two yards. Jones would finish the drive with a one yard run to the right side for the touchdown. Arkansas went for two with a successful pass from Jones to Wilson. Hogs 14, Tigers 7.
Once more, Missouri would go three and out. Harvey would punt to Marvin Jackson at the Tiger 41.
On first and ten, Cobbs rushes left for 41 and the touchdown putting the Hogs up (after the PAT) 21 to 7.
On the next drive, Missouri would move the ball down to the Hogs 12 yard line before turning it over on downs. No field goal attempts here to try and make up the gap.
The next possession saw the Hogs only able to move the ball three yards out to the 15. Once again calling on Skinner, who came in and punted to the Hog's 47.
With 39 seconds left in the half, after three complete passes to Thomson Omboga the Tigers moved the ball to the Hog's 24. On the next play, Tom Crowder would intercept the pass to Santino Riccio and return it for 20 yards. The half would end with Arkansas 21, Missouri 7.
The second half started with the Hogs kicking off to Shirdonya Mitchell who returned it from the four to the Tiger's 31. Abron rushed for seven, Smith then rushed for 20. Missouri stayed on the ground all way down to the Hog's one yard line where they had a fourth and goal. On the next play, Smith suffered his second pass was interception, this time by Lerinezo Robinson in the end zone resulting with a return out to the ten.
Cobbs, Birmingham, Jones, and Smith combined to rush the ball out to the Tiger's 34. On first and ten, Jones passed to Cobbs for seven. Next Cobbs ran for five and the first down. Birmingham went for 14 down to the Tiger eight. On first and goal. Jones passes to Wilson for two to the six yard line. On the next play, Birmingham lost two followed by an incompletion by Jones. Balseiro would now make the score 24 - 7 with his third field goal of the game.
After the kickoff, the Tigers would set up shop at their own 29. Missouri would move 66 yards in 11 plays down to the Hog's five yard line. Smith would go the final five yards to score the Tiger's final touchdown of the day. After the PAT, the scoreboard would read Arkansas 24, Missouri 14.
On the kickoff, Birmingham would return the ball 39 yards out to the Hog 42. The third quarter would end with Cobbs rushing left for four to the Razorback 46
After an incompletion, Birmingham ran for 41 yards down to the Tiger 13. Once again following another incompletion, Jones rushed for six to the seven yard line. On third down Cobbs rushes for one. Balseiro comes in and nails his Independence Bowl record setting fourth field goal making the score Hogs 27, and Tigers 14.
On the next possession, Missouri mounted an eight play drive that netted only 13 yards ending with a blocked punt at their own 39.
The Hogs came in and went three and out with Skinner punting on fourth down to the one yard line. Missouri drove 90 yards down to the nine yard line where they had to give the ball up on downs. The Hogs rushed for six plays (Cobbs for five) down to the Tiger 43 where Skinner punted to Marcus James who lost three yards on the return ending up at the nine yard line.
Abron rushed twice for a total of 14 yards to end the game. Arkansas 27, Missouri 14.
Cobbs ran for 141 yards and was selected as MVP for the 2003 Independence Bowl game. Birmingham added 85 rushing yards on ten carries (third best average yards per carry with 10 or more carries in Independence Bowl history), while Jones tacked on 74 yards rushing seven times. The 300 yards also set an Independence Bowl record for team rushing (currently second - broken in 2011). Balseiro still holds the record for most made field goals for the Independence Bowl.
Missouri racked more total yards than the Hogs, but the stingy defense and powerful offense dictated the Razorbacks win.
Join us next month, as we once again recall tales of the games, players, and coaches from the past.