FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)Johnathan Bennett threw three touchdown passes in the first half and No. 23 Liberty used a late goal-line stop on a 2-point conversion try to beat Arkansas 21-19 on Saturday.
Liberty (8-1) stopped KJ Jefferson’s conversion attempt with 1:11 left to seal the win.
Liberty coach Hugh Freeze was an assistant coach at Ole Miss for two years in the mid-2010s, then the Rebels’ head coach from 2012-16. He had never won in Fayetteville.
”I’ve brought a lot of good teams to this stadium, I’ve never left here real happy,” Freeze said. ”Who would have thought my first win in Fayetteville would have been with Liberty?”
The Razorbacks (5-4) scored 19 unanswered points on a field goal, safety, two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion. Jefferson took a shotgun snap up the middle on the conversion try and was marked short of the end zone near the goal line. Officials upheld the call after more than two minutes of review.
”(The official) said from his viewpoint that he was short, that his knee hit before the ball,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. ”The ball was a half-yard over the goal line, but he said his knee hit before.”
Liberty raced to a 21-point lead behind Bennett’s three first-half TD passes. Bennett finished 15 of 25 for 224 yards. But the Flames were held to just 79 yards in the second half while Arkansas had 250.
Jefferson was 23 of 37 passing for 284 yards with two touchdown passes, both to tight end Trey Knox, and two interceptions. One of the picks was late in the first half when he looked for Knox on a 26-yard pass in the end zone. The ball bounced off the tight end and into the hands of a Liberty defender.
Bennett led Liberty on an 80-yard drive on eight plays on the ensuing drive for what proved to be the winning score.
Arkansas entered with the sixth-ranked rushing game in FBS, averaging more than 244 yards. Liberty held Arkansas to 144, including just 60 from Rocket Sanders, the ninth-ranked rusher in the nation.
”To come into an SEC stadium, I know it’s hard as heck to bring an SEC roster to a stadium on the road in this league,” Freeze said. ”It’s hard. I lived it. To bring our Group of Five roster in here to win, be hard-pressed to say this is not 1A or 1B.”
STUCK IN THE MUD
Liberty’s defense had 14 tackles for loss, a season high. Arkansas lost 57 yards on those plays, leading to an average of 10 yards to go on third down. The Razorbacks were just 4 of 16 converting third downs.
PRESSURE ON PITTMAN
Arkansas won eight regular-season games last year, but would need to win its remaining three to get to that mark again. Pittman knows the season hasn’t gone as planned.
”We’ve lost games since I’ve been here, but not like this,” Pittman said. ”These games we’ve won since I’ve been head coach here. I know I might get tested on that, why I said that. But we hadn’t gotten beat like this. That’s my responsibility.”
Liberty could jump a couple spots after beating an SEC opponent.
Arkansas picked up votes last week, but is unlikely to get that result again.
Liberty’s lone loss came by one point to Wake Forest in Week 3. The Flames may be the best non-power-conference team in FBS.
Arkansas’ bowl-eligibility hopes are in trouble as the Razorbacks face ranked opponents the next two weeks before finishing in a rivalry game against Missouri.
Liberty: The Flames play at Connecticut in Week 12.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks get another home game when LSU visits Saturday.
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