FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Gus Malzahn earned his reputation as a football coach while patrolling the fields of Arkansas high schools for 15 years.
The Auburn coach finally saw his two-year reign over his home state come to an end on Saturday, with the Razorbacks outlasting the Tigers (4-3, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) 54-46 in four overtimes.
The loss ends a two-game winning streak for Auburn, and it sends Malzahn to 1-2 against the school where he was briefly a walk-on at in college.
The Tigers rallied from 14 points down in the first half, and quarterback Sean White led them on a game-tying drive late in regulation - capped by a 41-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson. However, they were unable to overcome eight dropped passes, including one that would have gone for a touchdown in the fourth overtime to Ricardo Louis, while adding to their disappointing season so far.
''We've just got to catch the ball and do a better job of it,'' Malzahn said.
''It was a tough one, no doubt about it,'' Malzahn said. ''Our kids showed a lot of character, a lot of fight ... We didn't get it done in the end when we needed to.'' ''
It was a back-and-forth game full of lead changes and big plays, the last of which was Arkansas (3-4, 2-2) quarterback Brandon Allen's 25-yard touchdown pass to Drew Morgan on the opening play of the fourth extra period.
Following a 2-point conversion pass by Allen to Jeremy Sprinkle, the Razorbacks defense finally found a way to stop the Tigers when it mattered most - earning Arkansas coach Bret Bielema his first win over Malzahn and Auburn.
The win kept Arkansas' bowl hopes alive, doing so in the longest game in major college football this season, according to STATS.
''I told our players after the game, `You took that a little to the extreme,''' Bielema said. ''... Everybody else always worries about how you are going to bring them back, or how are they going to respond or are they going to be able to persevere. They're just so resilient.''
Alex Collins led the Razorbacks with 105 yards rushing and a touchdown on 25 carries, topping 100 yards for the fourth time in five games.
It was Morgan, however, who took Allen's first pass of the fourth overtime in the right flat and sprinted up the sideline before diving into the end zone for the eventual winning touchdown. The touchdown was Morgan's second in the four overtimes, the longest game for Arkansas since a triple-overtime win over Kentucky in 2003.
''It really reminded me when I was a kid, watching Arkansas go into a bunch of seven-overtime games and pulling those out at the end,'' Allen said. ''So, once we got past the first one, I felt like, `OK, we're going to win this no matter how many it takes.'''
Peyton Barber led Auburn with 120 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 37 carries, while Sean White was 19-of-32 passing for 254 yards.
Bielema entered the game 0-2 against Auburn under Malzahn, an Arkansas native who made a name for himself while coaching high school football in the state and was the Arkansas offensive coordinator for one season.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the first three overtimes, also both converting their 2-point conversions in the third extra period.
After Morgan's second touchdown put Arkansas up in the fourth overtime, the Tigers had a chance to try and tie the game while driving into the heart of the Razorback Stadium crowd on the south end of the field.
However, Louis dropped a pass in the end zone on second down, and White's fourth-down attempt to Louis was broken up by Arkansas safety Josh Liddell.
''It was amazing,'' Liddell said. ''... Probably the best play of my career, so far.''
Arkansas appeared to have the game under control for much of the first half, holding the Tigers to 14 yards of offense on their first 14 plays.
Auburn recovered after the slow start to force the overtime and nearly won the game in both the first and third overtimes, but the Razorbacks scored on a pair of fourth downs - including Allen's 6-yard scoring pass to Morgan on fourth-and-3 in the first extra period.
Allen finished 19-of-31 passing for 233 yards and three touchdowns, all of which Arkansas needed to improve to 1-3 under Bielema in overtime games.