Rebels have to find a way around Arkansas' Andrews

Updated: October 24, 2003, 2:41 PM ET

OXFORD, Miss. -- Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe never saw football players so exhausted.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt didn't even realize how long the game lasted.

Eli Manning wasn't sure how to feel when it ended.

Matt Jones was just glad that it was over.

The last time Arkansas visited Oxford, the Razorbacks and Rebels went into overtime. And then they kept going and going and going and ....

The final: Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56 in seven overtimes, the longest game in NCAA history.

"I've never seen a locker room so spent physically and emotionally," Cutcliffe said. "Obviously, we were the losing team, so that would be your memory of things. How you were just depleted 100 percent physically and emotionally."

Nine days short of the two-year anniversary of the game that wouldn't end, Jones and the 21st-ranked Razorbacks (4-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) return to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday night to face Manning and the Rebels (5-2, 3-0).

For 60 minutes of regulation play, Ole Miss and Arkansas played a perfectly dull game on a cool night, three days after Halloween of 2001.

The Razorbacks controlled the ball and the clock, but Manning and the Rebels tied it with touchdown with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

They went to overtime tied at 17. Then things got good.

It evolved into a duel between the scrambling and scampering Jones and the unflappable and on-target Manning.

Jones frustrated the weary Rebels, running for one touchdown and throwing for another while leaving would-be tacklers flailing in his wake.

Manning dissected the Razorbacks, firing footballs into spaces better suited for darts.

"It was hard to believe it was actually seven overtimes. I got kind of lost in it and thought it was really three or four," Nutt said earlier this week.

By the time it reached a record-setting seventh overtime, even the fans and cheerleaders looked wiped out.

"It was too long," Jones recalled. "It was kind of like a blur. It seemed like it took forever. It seemed like after that game we drove to whoever we played next and played another game."

The shots of Jones sprawled out on the bench are as memorable as some of his spectacular escapes.

Jones' final trick came in the seventh OT. With Rebels grabbing at him, he flipped a pass to the back of the end zone that DeCori Birmingham hauled in for a 2-point conversion and a 58-50 lead.

Manning's fifth TD pass of the overtime made it a two-point game.

On the game's final play, Manning hit Doug Zeigler and a split-second later Jermaine Petty nailed Zeigler, 2 yards short of the goal line.

"I have been more upset after losing other games than that one because we played as hard as we could," Manning said. "We just came up short. That happens. I did not really know how to feel after that game."

The Rebels and Razorbacks could be primed for another shootout.

Ole Miss has the No. 1 offense in the SEC and fourth best in the nation. The Rebels have finally found a running game to complement Manning and are averaging 497 yards and 40 points per game.

Manning is the top-rated passer in the conference with 2,127 yards and 17 touchdowns.

"We've always known they could throw it with Eli Manning, with is accuracy and the receivers he has. Now, they're running the football," Nutt said.

The Razorbacks are No. 2 in the SEC in total offense (434 ypg) and the top rushing team in the league (225 ypg).

They, too, have found balance this season, but it's the passing game that has caught up to the running game. Jones has completed 58 percent of his passes for 894 yards with seven touchdowns and only four interceptions.

"It's tougher to play a guy who is mobile and can thrown on the run rather than somebody that just sits in the pocket," Ole Miss cornerback Travis Johnson said. "You have to keep an eye on that all the time."

Arkansas comes in having lost two straight and is in danger of falling out of the SEC West race.

Jones stopped short of calling it a must-win, but it's awfully close.

"If we lose this game, then next week we'll be there," he said.

Ole Miss is off to its best start in the SEC in 33 years. The Rebels were 4-0 in conference in 1970.

For those who believe in omens, Saturday's game will be televised by ESPN2 and Game 6 of the World Series will be played the same night -- just like the 2001 classic.

"I don't know that anyone wants to go through seven overtimes again," Cutcliffe said. "Hopefully, 6:15 is an early enough start."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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