Trailing 17-14, the Bulldogs set up for a field goal that would have tied the score, but a low kick by MSU place kicker Keith Andrews was blocked by Elliott Harris with 4:25 remaining in the third quarter.
The ball deflected off Harris’ helmet and into the hands of Pierre Brown, who raced 76 yards -- with the help of a key downfield block by Vickiel Vaughn -- for a touchdown which gave the Hogs a 24-14 lead and all the momentum they needed hold on for the victory.
“They had an extra tackle in and everybody shifted over,” Harris said. “The main goal was just to try to get up as high as we could, which I did, but the ball just hit me on the side of my helmet.
“To be honest with you, I had my eyes closed.”
Brown’s eyes were wide open as the ball went high in the air after it hit Harris’ helmet. Brown and Andrews were both in position to make the catch.
“I grabbed it out of the air, just trying to snatch it away from the kicker who was trying to get to it,” said Brown, who also had eight tackles. “So I made my way to the end zone as fast as I could, tying to do what (UA strength and conditioning coach Don) coach Decker taught us to run correctly, ‘Punch, punch, cycle, cycle,’ everything I could to get there.”
Vaughn blocked Andrews at about the MSU 20, the only Bulldogs player in position to stop Brown from reaching the end zone.
It seemed like it took Brown -- who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds -- at least 10 seconds to cover the 76 yards.
“I was just helping out my teammate,” Vaughn said. “I told Pierre when he was running that ‘You got to pick it up,’ but as long as he scored, I didn’t care how long it took him to get there.”
In Brown’s defense, he said he was slowed from an injury earlier in the game. He said he took a knee to the calf which caused a deep bruise and him to miss a couple of plays.
“ I had just gotten back into the game,” Brown said. “It was hurting pretty bad, but I still didn’t think anybody could catch me.
“When I got the ball, all I saw was the goal line.”
The block was set up when the Hogs lined up in a “monster left” formation, where they isolate an offensive guard against three defenders. It was Titus Peebles and Keith Jackson who double-teamed the guard to provide enough push for Harris to make the play.
“It was a team effort,” said Jamaal Anderson, who would have made the block had it got by Harris. “Keith and Titus got a good push and if they weren’t in there, it wouldn’t have been opened up to get the block.”
Arkansas has been searching for a big play from its special teams all season. The Hogs thought they had one when Michael Grant recovered a fumbled kickoff at South Carolina, but it was nullified because of an inadvertent whistle.
Saturday’s play, with Arkansas needing to win out to become bowl eligible, couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It changed the game all the way around,” Jackson said. “It was like the field flipped upside down on Mississippi State. That’s how big it was.”