Heroes of 2 great Razorback plays on field for Ole Miss game

Updated: November 9, 2004, 6:49 PM ET
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- Few plays have defined Arkansas football in Little Rock as much as the "Powder River Play" in 1954 and the "Miracle on Markham" in 2002.

The former was the disguised halfback pass from Buddy Bob Benson to Preston Carpenter that beat No. 5 Mississippi 6-0, sent the Razorbacks to the Cotton Bowl and a No. 10 national ranking and inspired the expansion of War Memorial Stadium from a capacity of 31,000 to 53,727.

The latter was a desperation heave by Matt Jones to DeCori Birmingham for a 31-yard touchdown that beat No. 17 LSU 21-20, gave Arkansas the SEC West crown and a spot in the conference title game and sent the overflow crowd of 55,553 into a frenzy.

How appropriate, then, that the 50th anniversary of the "Powder River Play" and that 1954 team be celebrated Saturday during seniors Jones and Birmingham's last game against Ole Miss.

"I saw a great deal of similarity of our two teams when this season first started," said Eddie Bradford, the left tackle who helped give Benson time to sell the run and one of the organizers for Saturday's celebration.

He noted that Jones and Birmingham are among the few seniors on this year's team, just like he was one of only five on that 1954 team.

"We had five seniors, 11 juniors and nine sophomores and those were the '25 Little Pigs," said Bradford, who lives in Fayetteville.

Bradford doubts the 1954 team will compare many notes with this year's squad. At 3-5, both Arkansas and Ole Miss have to win out to qualify for a bowl game and Bradford said the Razorbacks "need this game in the worst way and we don't want to do anything to distract them."

But the 2004 team could probably learn something from their forebears. The 1954 team ran a single-wing offense, and Bradford said the 2004 Razorbacks run something similar with Jones in the shotgun.

"With Matt, he would have been a great tailback in the single-wing," Bradford said. "A lot of things he does in the deep set, it's like what George Walker and Buddy Bob Benson would have done."

Coach Bowden Wyatt named the "Powder River Play" for the river in his native Wyoming, which like the play, was built on deception. It was a mile wide, but only six inches deep.

Facing third and six at their own 34, the Razorbacks decided to dig up the play to fool the Runnin' Rebels. Wyatt took out his best passer, George Walker, to make Ole Miss think run. Then, on a direct snap to run specialist Benson, the offensive linemen pulled like a normal sweep to the left.

Just before running out of bounds, Benson pulled up and lofted a 33-yard pass to a streaking Carpenter and just over the outstretched arms of Rebels defensive halfback Houston Patton. Carpenter went 33 more yards to pay dirt.

Amazingly, 32 of the 50 original members of the 1954 team will be on the field at halftime Saturday, even though they are all in their late 60s and early 70s. Bradford said they are an incredibly tight-knit and loyal group and look forward to a special dinner Friday night, a golf game and a pre-game meal.

The 1954 team did more than beat Ole Miss. It was the first to beat hated Texas on the road in 17 years. In fact, it won three other games in Texas and six out of seven overall against Texas schools.

But the Razorbacks' place on the national collegiate scene -- and the recruiting power Arkansas would use to win the national championship 10 years later -- really started with the "Powder River Play."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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