“You are now entering Louisiana. Set your clocks back four seconds.”
I want to be honest. I don’t know if that sign actually existed at the Louisiana/Mississippi border. I’ve heard about it my entire life, and you can find references to the sign online, even on the Wikipedia page of the LSU/Ole Miss rivalry. But I can’t find a photo of it, nor a contemporary news story.
You know what? Some things are best unasked. The sign existed because we all believe it existed, and it is still possible to find Ole Miss fans upset about the call even today. Such is the power of the Night When Time Stood Still. Before Les Miles came to town and bent time and space, Bert Jones had already pulled the trick.
Entering the 1972 season, things were changing around the program. LSU unveiled new uniforms, switching from the numerals on the helmet to the first version of the tiger head logo. That version of Mike was a bit more cartoonish and on a purple field, a helmet that would last for five seasons before a version of the LSU helmet as we know it was unveiled.
LSU bid farewell to one of its greatest players, as Tommy Casanova departed as a three-time All-American. Following him out the door were such stalwarts as Ronnie Estay and Andy Hamilton. LSU also welcomed Mike Williams, the first African-American in LSU football history, to the roster. He immediately stepped into the starting lineup after his freshmen ineligible year in 1971. He would play his first game on September 16, 1972, sparing LSU the ignominy of being the last SEC team to integrate, as he beat Ben Williams at Ole Miss to the field by two weeks.
Spirits and expectations were high. Sports Illustrated named LSU as its preseason #1 due to such returning talent as Brad Davis, who SI called “the best runner at LSU since Jim Taylor.” A nice but patently untrue thing to say (Jerry Stovall says hi and Art Cantrelle says “Guys, I was on the team LAST YEAR”). But really, this pick was all about The Ruston Rifle, Bert Jones coming back for his senior year.
By the time the first week of November rolled around, LSU looked like a team living up to every bit of the hype. The Tigers rolled out to a 6-0 start and after taking a few games to get their sea legs, it was the defense, not the offense, carrying the Tigers. The Tigers held their last four opponents all to a touchdown or less, winning their last tune-up before the Ole Miss showdown 10-0 over Kentucky.
John Vaught had stepped down as the Ole Miss coach after the 1970 season and the Rebels didn’t miss a beat, going 10-2 under Billy Kinard. Another thing that hadn’t changed under Kinard was Ole Miss’ domination of Cholly Mac. McClendon entered his second decade as the LSU head coach with a 2-7-1 record against the hated Rebels, including a loss in 1971. McClendon had three straight 9-win seasons headed into 1972, but only one of those seasons included a win over Ole Miss, and that’s when Archie was hurt in 1970.
”The two teams didn’t like each other very much and the fans hated each other,” said Davis. “It was a great setting for a rivalry game.”
And one of the greatest rivalry games ever player is what fans got.
We don’t have game video, but we do have this season highlight package. You should watch it anyway, and the final minute is devoted to the LSU-Ole Miss game. But there’s some other highlights we’ll get into in a bit.
Norris Weese started the game for Ole Miss, the returning starter from 1971. He was a decent quarterback for the era, but he wasn’t Archie Manning. He guided the Rebels two yards backwards on the opening possession before punting the ball away to the LSU 46.
Chris Dantin found space on the first two plays from scrimmage, living up to Cholly Mac’s conservative reputation. Mac would unleash his Heisman contender on the third play of the game, where he was sacked by Mackey McKenzie for an 11-yard loss. Worse, Jones lost the football and McKenzie recovered. Ole Miss didn’t get cute, instead hammered Greg Ainsworth up the middle for a few plays before kicking a 42-yard field goal. The Rebels weren’t going to go down without a fight.
LSU responded with a methodical 75-yard, 12-play drive with a healthy dose of Brad Davis to loosen the defense up for Bert Jones to unleash his rifle arm. On second and goal from the six, Bert Jones rolled to the right looking for a receiver, finding no one, not even a defender, he turned the corner and dove into the end zone for a 7-3 LSU lead.
The first quarter came to a close with Ole Miss putting together a drive of their own into LSU territory. But as soon as the second quarter began, the LSU defense stiffened and Ole Miss moved backwards to the LSU 34. Ole Miss would punt, much to the play-by-play man’s consternation (“A punt? Oh well…”).
Jones gets the LSU offense going again by targeting Gerald Keigley heavily. Keigley dropped a first down conversion, but he’d make up for it on third and long. The Keigley catch gets LSU on the verge of the red zone which Dantin would dive into a few plays later. Bert Jones would run an option play and the Ole Miss defense wisely all took the pitchman, so Jones loped to the ten yard line. LSU would inch to the five but Jones couldn’t find a man on third down. This time, there was no escape, and he would go for a loss. Jackson added a short kick to push the lead to 10-3.
Ole Miss would respond with a short drive of their own, but would again stall out around the LSU 35. This time, Billy Kinard elected to try the long field goal, but the 52-yard attempt went both short and wide. Pat Lyons would get his one possession at QB, and LSU went nowhere.
Ole Miss took over with under two minutes left in the half. Weese would immediately get the Rebels near midfield with an impromptu scramble avoiding pressure. After another first down conversion, LSU would dial up the blitz and seem to nip this drive in the bud, dropping Weese for a 12-yard loss. Weese would almost take a big loss on the next snap, but would minimize the damage to a one yard loss, setting up a 3rd and 23 with 27 seconds left in the half. This time, Weese got time and he found a wide open Bill Barry for a first down. Lavinghouse would hit a 38-yard field goal on the half’s final play to cut the lead to 10-6.
At this point, LSU had to feel like they had controlled the game, having only punted once, but the Tigers only held a 10-6 lead thanks to a late drive keyed by a near miracle third down conversion. LSU would go nowhere on its first possession, and Ole Miss would drive 69 yards in 16 plays, largely Ainsworth runs until the Rebels got inside the 10, where Weese would sneak the ball in for a touchdown and a 13-10 Ole Miss lead.
Just as LSU had responded to Ole Miss’ score in the opening frame, Bert Jones guided the tiger offense down the field and seemed on the verge of putting up points of their own. But disaster struck when Jones threw a pick to Harry Harrison, a real person not a Faulkner character, at the 25, returned to near midfield. Time expired in the third quarter with Ole Miss at the LSU 25, threatening to extend their lead.
Weese would run the bootleg and found Barry down the field. Weese completed the pass to Barry for an apparent first down, but Barry’s foot was out of bounds, negating the catch. Ole Miss settled for a 40-yard field goal, and LSU had dodged a bullet.
A miscommunication on the kickoff leads to no one receiving the kick, hoping it would roll to the end zone. Instead, Dantin had to pick the ball up in the shadow of the goalline and could only return the ball to the 6. Forced to shrink the playbook, the Tiger runners could find no space and LSU punted the ball way.
Now, Ole Miss had their chance to put the game away. Ainsworth kept gridning yards up the middle, finally creating the space for Gene Allen to burst a longish run down the sideline. Weese would push the ball inside the 20 on an 8-yard bootleg. On third and five from the 14, Weese would roll around the right side, only to be stopped a yard short of the first by Gary Champagne. Lavinghouse would give the Tiger faithful hope by missing wide left from 27 yards.
Jones and Davis would seize on this hope and started to get the LSU offense churning again. Davis would power over the line, followed up Jones picking up chunks of yards in the air. The Rebels would resort to taking Davis down by the facemask, resulting in a 15-yard penalty. LSU had a first down at the 35 and then… it was their turn for a drive to die there. Jones missed Boyd on third down, but the Tigers elected to go for it on fourth. The Rebels obliterated the line and overwhelmed Jones in the backfield for an 11-yard loss with 4:31 left to play.
The LSU defense immediately stiffened up and Ole Miss could not find any room. The Rebels would quickly go three and out, and LSU would take over the ball 80 yards away from the end zone and 3:02 to play.
Right out of the gate, Jones went to his favorite target, hitting Keigley for a 23 yard gain. It should have set the tone for the drive, but Jones would take a nine yard sack, setting up a third and long. Showing no panic, Jones flipped a screen pass to Dantin for 12 yards. On a much more manageable fourth and two, Jones fired a completion to LeDoux for ten yards at the OM 39. But now there was only 59 seconds left in the game, as it seemed time was flying off of the clock.
On second and two, Cholly Mac dug into his rarely used bag of tricks and almost won the game then and there. Tight end Brad Boyd took the ball on an end round and he lofted the ball to the end zone to Jimmy LeDoux. The ball went in and out of his hands, falling incomplete. Dantin would then come up inches short on third down. Time continued to drip off the clock, but given a second chance, Dantin converted on fourth down. It was the second fourth down conversion of the drive.
Bert Jones would hit Keigley again for just a four yard gain to the 20, but Keigley could not get out of bounds, forcing LSU to use its last timeout with 10 seconds left. Jones’ next pass fell incomplete, but refs bailed out Jones with a pass interference call, moving the ball to the ten. Now, just four seconds were on the clock, time for one more play.
Jones saw LeDoux in the end zone, and he tried to thread the needle. Mickey Fratesi got his hand in the way, batting the ball away. Twice, LSU had gone to LeDoux in the end zone and come away empty handed. Jones turned to the official not to ask for more time, but to plead for a flag.
”I really thought that there was pass interference against Jimmy LeDoux in the end zone,” Jones said. “I did not realize there was a second left until I looked at the clock after arguing with the referee for a pass interference call.”
During the week we practiced a play to use if we needed a two-point conversion,” Jones said. “That is what we called.”
”This is it, son,” Coach McClendon said to Jones before he took the field.
”Coach Mac said I winked at him on the sidelines,” Jones said. “I really think it was probably a nervous twitch.”
Can’t imagine why a guy would be nervous running a two-point conversion play from the ten yard line with one second on the clock. The play was designed to go to Brad Davis, who at this point in the season had two catches for negative one yard. He bobbled the catch, but he held on and dove for the flag. The officials signaled for a touchdown and the record crowd went nuts.
With no time on the clock, Rusty Jackson came on and booted the ball straight through the uprights for the extra point. LSU had pulled off the impossible, running two plays in fours seconds to steal a victory by making time stand still.
Bert Jones set the LSU career completions record in the game, passing Mike Hillman, He also nudged past YA Tittle’s career marks in total offense and touchdowns. But no one was thinking about that, as the team crowded into the sweaty locker room and chanted, “Go to hell, Ole Miss! Go to hell!”
Take an extra four seconds to get there, if you need it.
35-7 #9 Auburn
The next week, of course, LSU lost to Alabama in a battle of unbeatens. This seemed to set up Alabama for another run at the national title, but they would lose to Auburn in the famous Punt Bama Punt game. Auburn and Bama would share the SEC title at one loss apiece, as Auburn’s one loss was a complete ass kicking at the hands of LSU 35-7.
LSU failed to be included the tiebreaker because of a truly bizarre tie game against Florida played in a monsoon. Go back to those season highlights and check out the game played on a soaked artificial turf… that was the Florida game. Mike Williams made a spectacular tackle at the one-yard line from behind, saving a touchdown. Florida would fumble on the next play. But what makes the game truly remarkable was than Juan Roca would miss seven, yes seven, field goal attempts for LSU in the game.
With 2:08 left in the game, freshman kicker John Williams hit a 35-yarder to tie the game for the Gators. Given the weather, it was a remarkable clutch kick for a freshman. LSU then put on a two minute drill, setting up a field goal attempt from the 27. Florida blocked the kick but then fumbled the recovery, giving LSU the ball again. Roca would attempt another kick from 22 yards out with 6 seconds left. He would miss it.
What’s the Greatest Game of 1972?
This poll is closed
Stopping time against Ole Miss
Tying Florida in the rain