Contested loss to LSU in 1972 remains painful

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Harry Harrison made enough big plays in his Ole Miss football career to be named All-American.
Had he made one more big play, he may have had streets and buildings on campus named in his honor.
Harrison, now a member of the Ole Miss radio broadcast team, was a split-second late in 1972 of stopping one of the most talked-about plays in Ole Miss history.
Former LSU stars Bert Jones and Brad Davis will be honored at their home stadium Saturday afternoon when the Rebels take on No. 8 LSU.
It’s been 40 years since Jones, the quarterback, passed to Davis, a running back, on the last play of the game to rally the Tigers to a 17-16 win. As they are now, LSU was a top 10 team – ranked No. 6 – and Ole Miss was unranked. The Rebels would eventually struggle to a 5-5 finish in Billy Kinard’s second season as coach.
Those associated with Ole Miss contend the play should never have happened. The play before it – one successfully defended by the Rebels – began with four seconds on the clock.
It included Jones taking a snap from under center, shuffling a few steps back, faking a handoff, dropping back further, looking at primary receivers and then finding another option before finally passing.
All that occurred in only three seconds, if the official game clock of the day was correct.
“We ran that play back hundreds of times on the film, and the minimum amount of time we found that it could take was six seconds,” Harrison said.
In the modern era of college football the play would be reviewed. That doesn’t mean the play would be overturned. Results are not easily predicted when plays reach the replay booth.
The play that should have ended the game but didn’t set up the Jones-to-Davis heroics before a crowd of 68,000 in a Tiger Stadium night game.
Even the winning play was flawed, Harrison says.
Davis lined up not in the backfield but as a third wide receiver. One LSU wide receiver blasted off the line not to run a route but to run directly at Harrison, the safety, and grab hold of his jersey to slow him up.
Davis ran straight to the pylon.
When Harrison realized what was happening, he broke free and got to Davis.
Within seconds Ole Miss players were walking stunned in the end zone as LSU players celebrated and the stadium erupted around them.
All this from a play that never should have been snapped and a ball that wasn’t caught anyway, Harrison says.
“He did back across the goalline. I saw the officials looking at him, but he never had control of the football. I hit him about the same time (the pass arrived), and we went out of bounds. He never had control of the football and fumbled it out of bounds, of course,” Harrison recalls. “They called it a touchdown. To me, it was an incompletion.”
The main goal of the play was to keep Ole Miss linebacker Bobby Bailess away from Davis.
“All they were trying to do was screen off our linebacker who at that point had to cover the wingback that basically became a third receiver. They just tried to create a situation where Bailess had to run around all of us, and they did.”
What might have been
Harrison, a member of the last signing class of legendary Ole Miss coach John Vaught, was finally able to play for Vaught after Kinard was fired and Vaught finished up the 1973 season.
Harrison believes the “clock” game might have made a difference for Kinard, had he won it.
“It might have bought him another year or so,” he said.
Losing it bought Kinard and the Rebels a lot of pain – “I’ve thought about it 1,000 times,” Harrison says – but time has healed some of those wounds, enough that Harrison can discuss the play that shouldn’t have been with Bert Jones.
“Davis says he scored, but Bert Jones says he never had control of the ball. It’s always helped my attitude about it to hear an LSU Tiger say, ‘Yeah, it really wasn’t complete.’”
parrish.alford@journalinc.com