Arkansas nips Western Illinois in Petrino's debut

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Casey Dick scored on a 4-yard run with 1:49 remaining, and Arkansas avoided disaster in Bobby Petrino's first game as coach, rallying to beat Western Illinois 28-24 Saturday night.

The Razorbacks trailed 24-14 in the fourth quarter, but Dick found Greg Childs over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown, then led an 83-yard drive for the winning score. Arkansas faced fourth-and-10 at the Western Illinois 33, but rather than attempt a field goal with strong-legged Alex Tejada, Petrino decided to go for it.

Dick completed a pass to Carlton Salters, who just barely picked up the first down. The Razorbacks moved all the way to the 4, where Dick took a shotgun snap and ran left into the end zone.

Matt Barr threw incomplete on fourth down to end the Leathernecks' final drive.

Arkansas was playing its first game under Petrino, who was hired last December to replace Houston Nutt. The new era was off to a bad start before the game even began when the school announced running back Michael Smith's one-game suspension for improper use of scholarship textbooks.

With Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the NFL, the Razorbacks were left to rely on freshmen to run the ball. Arkansas needed a big game from Dick, the senior quarterback, to come away with the win.

Dick went 25-of-41 for 318 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, numbers that would have been even better if his receivers hadn't dropped about a half-dozen passes. Dick ran for two TDs in the second half.

Western Illinois is one of the better teams in the Football Championship Subdivision, but that's still college football's second tier. When the Leathernecks went ahead 17-7 in the third quarter, the Arkansas crowd appeared stunned. Fans weren't even all that quick to boo -- as they did so often during Nutt's final season with the team.

The folks in Atlanta must have been giddy with excitement when the Razorbacks went down by 10 in the fourth quarter. Petrino was the Falcons' coach last year before abruptly leaving late in the season to take the Arkansas job.

Javid Milton scored from a yard out on fourth down to make it 24-14, but the Leathernecks couldn't hold off the Razorbacks much longer.

Herb Donaldson rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown for Western Illinois. He also caught a 12-yard scoring pass from Barr early in the second half to make it 17-7.

Dick answered with a 23-yard touchdown run.

For a while, the game was reminiscent of Arkansas' season-opening loss to the Citadel in 1992. That game got coach Jack Crowe fired, and although Petrino can expect a much longer leash, the honeymoon could be brief if the Razorbacks' youngsters continue to struggle.

Arkansas looked out of sorts from the very beginning. Freshman Elton Ford returned the opening kickoff to the 15 before fumbling, giving Western Illinois great field position. The Leathernecks botched a field goal attempt on that possession, but they took the lead later in the first quarter on Taylor Rowan's 42-yard kick.

Dick put Arkansas ahead in the second quarter with a 10-yard scoring pass to freshman Joe Adams, but Donaldson scored on a 3-yard run with 1:21 remaining, giving Western Illinois a 10-7 halftime lead.