On November 20, 1982, SMU was on the verge of clinching its second straight Southwest Conference title. Standing in their way was a very good Arkansas Razorback team. Arkansas came in ranked ninth with a record of 8-1, while the Mustangs were riding high at 10-0, ranked second behind Georgia. The game was a sellout, the first pre-sellout since the 1949 Notre Dame game. The game ended in a tie, 17-17, clinching the conference title and Cotton Bowl berth for the Mustangs. But if it was not for a clutch play by cornerback Russell Carter, the story of the 1982 season may have turned out differently. Carterís blocked field goal against Arkansas takes its place as one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.
Midway through the first quarter, Arkansas took possession of the ball at midfield and proceeded to march towards the end zone. The Razorbacks were able to eat up four minutes on the clock to jump out to a 7-0 lead as running back Gary Anderson took a pitch three yards for a touchdown. On SMUís ensuing drive, Eric Dickerson was able to break free for a gain of twenty-two yards. However, Dickerson was unable to hold on to the ball, and Billy Ray Smith recovered for Arkansas in SMU territory.
The Razorback offense was able to move the ball inside the SMU 10. At that point, the Mustang defense stiffened and prevented Arkansas from being able to find the end zone, forcing a field goal attempt. Up to this point in the game, everything seemed to be going Arkansasís way. The Pony Express was unable to crack Lou Holtzís defense, and on the flip side, it did not appear that SMU was going to be able to stop Arkansasís offense. But then on fourth and goal with 57 seconds left in the first quarter, Russell Carter made the biggest play of his SMU career.
Arkansas sent the kicking unit out onto the field for an apparent twenty-six yard field goal. At the snap of the ball, Carter exploded off the line from his right end spot. After taking a few steps into the Razorback backfield, Carter leapt through the air, flying parallel to the ground for what seemed like an eternity. His arms made there way into the ballís path and knocked it away.
The block gave a much needed lift to the Mustangs as they fought their way back into the game. They shut the Razorbacks out for the remainder of the first half and finally got onto the scoreboard themselves when Dickerson scored on a six yard run midway through the second quarter.
The rest of the game was a back and forth struggle as neither team wanted to give an inch. In the end, Lance McIlhenny scored late in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 17. After holding Arkansas on their next possession, SMU had one final shot at the victory. Unfortunately, Jeff Harrellís 52-yard field goal with seven seconds left fell short. However, the tie had guaranteed the Mustangs the SWC championship and a date with Pittsburgh in the Cotton Bowl.
SMU went on to upend Dan Marinoís Pitt Panthers, 7-3, in the Cotton Bowl. The final AP poll had SMU ranked second with an 11-0-1 record, while a 12-1 Penn State team was declared national champions. It was the sixth unbeaten season and ninth unbeaten SWC season in school history. The Mustangs also became the first team to successful defend their conference championship since Texas in 1973.
The following season, Russell Carter earned All-America honors on his way to becoming SMUís all-time career interceptions leader with 18. After graduating from SMU, he went on to become a first round draft choice of the New York Jets in 1984. If it was not for Carterís clutch blocked field goal against Arkansas, the 1982 season might be viewed much differently. If the Razorbacks had made the kick and gone on to win the game, 20-17, then it would have been Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl against Pitt. But Carter made the play and the rest is history. Russell Carterís blocked field goal against Arkansas in 1982 takes its place as one of the 90 Greatest Moments in SMU Football History.