The 2004 Liberty Bowl was the college football championship for the 2003 season. The match up pitted favorite #1 Ole Miss against #7 Temple. Highly regarded as one of college football's greatest games, the underdog and upstart Temple Owls upset the Rebels 39-38 in overtime to prevent the Rebels from winning 3 national championships in a row.
1 - Ole Miss Rebels
2 - Arkansas Razorbacks
3 - Texas Longhorns
4 - USC Trojans
5 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights
6 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons
7 - Temple Owls
8 - Oklahoma Sooners
Ole Miss RebelsWinning two national champions in a row, in '02 and '03, the Rebels returned a majority of their starters in '04 and were once against favorites to win the national champion. Under head coach David Cutcliffe The Rebels opened the season with a 36 game winning streak, not losing since the Cotton Bowl in 2001.
Star quarterback Eli Manning was returning for his senior season and led a high-powered Rebel offense. Manning commonly through wide receiver Triandos Luke, who ended the 2003 season with the most TD catches in the SEC. The running game was led by senior Rick Razzano alongside productive freshmen BenJarvus Green-Ellis, both of whom ran for over 1000 yards during the season.
The Rebels opened the season at #1 and never looked back. The only close call came in Week 3 against #12 Arkansas, but after 3 close quarters the Rebels managed to blast the Razorbacks away with two Manning TD passes. The Rebels would defeat Alabama and Georgia with ease, before blasting rival Mississippi State 45-3 in the 100th Egg Bowl. The Rebels would defeat one loss #12 Florida in the SEC championship, and Manning would throw 4 TD passes in addition to two Razzano rushing TDs to give the rebels the victory 48-10.
Ole Miss dominated Oklahoma in the first round of playoffs, then met the USC Trojans in a rematch of last year's title game. In perhaps the second most exciting game of the season, the Rebels defeated the Trojans in a back and forth match 27-23, with Manning throwing the game winning touchdown with only :26 left on the clock. The Rebels, now with a record-setting 51 wins in a row, were heading to Nashville, Tennessee for the national championship.
The Temple Owls had finally finished a long period of rebuilding. After a decade of losing seasons and nearly being kicked out of the Big East conference, the Owls had turned things around with the hiring of former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Richard Dent in 1999. After three years, the Owls had improved from a dismal 3-9 to 8-5 in 2002. By 2003, Dent's recruiting had paid off and the Owls featured a number of experienced starters, including sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn. perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever play for Temple. On the defensive side, the Owls were led by linebacker AJ Hawk.
The Owls were overlooked when the season began, but made waves when they defeated the reigning Big East champions, #15 Rutgers, on the road in New Jersey, propelling the Owls to #24 nationally. The Owls ran the table in the Big East, and rose in the ranks. A last second loss to Louisville nearly ended the Owl's chances, but the Owls made the Big East championship nonetheless at 11-1 and defeated Rutgers for the second time. Many commentators were unsure of Temple due to the fact that the Big East was regarded as the least impressive of the power conferences. The Owls managed to get the #7 seed in the playoffs, and squared off against SEC powerhouse Arkansas, who's only loss during the season was to Ole Miss.
Quinn threw for 3 TD's and rushed for one more as the Owls upsetted the Razorbacks 28-10, and then sent them up against the Lone Star Conference winner Texas. The Owls barely managed to contain star QB Vince Young, but a last second Young interception preserved an Owl led and gave them victory 31-28. Having defeated two Southern power houses, the upstart Owls were seen as the best chance at symbolically ending Southern dominance in college football over the north and preventing Ole Miss from gaining the first three-peat in over 50 years.
A few weeks before the game, QB Eli Manning won the Stegeman Trophy for being the most outstanding player from the south in college football, and many pundits declared Manning and the Ole Miss offense as one of the best in history. The story of the underdog Owls resonated across America, with coach Richard Dent and QB Brady Quinn seen as the last chance of preventing permanent "southern domination" of college football.
Temple won the coin toss and elected to kick off to the Rebels. On the Rebels first possession, Ole Miss went three and out with Hawk sacking Manning on 3rd down. After a decent punt return, the Owls' drive ended just past the 50 yard line and were forced to punt it back. Green-Ellis exploded for a 52 yard run, and Manning strung together a series of passes to reach the red zone. One 1st and goal Manning was intercepted by an Owl cornerback in the end zone. Brady Quinn led the Owls down the field with a series of short passes and a 24 yard pass to receiver Chris Gamble. Two players later, Quinn scrambled away from a near sack and found Gamble in the end zone to give the Owls a 7-0 lead. On the next Rebel possession, Ole Miss drove down the field once against, but Green-Ellis failed to convert on 3rd down, resulting in a 37 yard Marshall Wilson field goal to bring the score to 7-3 as the quarter ended.
The 2nd quarter remained a defensive struggle as both teams struggled to move the ball. Manning was intercepted once again, but the Owls would turn the ball over when running back Troy Ferguson fumbled the ball in Rebel territory. After trading a few punts, the Owls set up a nice drive into Rebel territory, with a screen pass on 3rd and 9 to Ferguson succeeding in the process. On 2nd and goal from the 6th, Quinn scrambed out of the pocket and dove into the end zone, giving the Owls the lead 14-3. Time ran out on the Rebels last second drive, with the final play, a Manning hail mary, being batted away to end the half.
On the opening Owl drive, Quinn was sacked and fumbled the ball. Rebel defensive end Michael Grau recovered the ball and sprinted to the end zone, the only defensive touchdown of the game. The Owls offense sputtered, with Quinn being sacked twice more in the quarter. A flea flicker resulted in a 62 yard bomb from Manning to Triandos Luke set up the Rebel offense in Owl territory. RB Razzano would score on a 13 yard touchdown run, giving the rebels their first lead, 17-14. On the next Owl possession, Quinn scrambled for a 26 yard run, then would find Ferguson for a long pass. A facemask penalty would bring the Owls deep into Rebel territory, but the Ole Miss defense stood stiff, forcing Temple to kick a field goal, tying the game at 17 apiece. A quick drive by the Rebels behind Manning's arm set them up in the red zone as the quarter ended. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Manning threw to Razzano on a slant, giving the Rebels a 7 point lead.
The Owls offense picked up once more, driving nearly 80 yards in around 4 minutes, ending the drive with a TD pass to Gamble in the back of the end zone, tying up the game. The Rebels then embarked on a clock consuming drive lasting around almost 8 minutes, using the power running of Razzano and Green-Ellis. On 1st and goal Razzano plowed through the Owl defense to score his second touchdown run of the game. With a little over 2 minutes left, Quinn and the Owls embarked on a quick drive down field. With only 14 seconds left, Quinn tight end John Whitehead on a touchdown pass to tie the game at 31. The Rebels would kneel the ball on their possession, sending the game into overtime.
Temple won the coin toss and elected to defend first. On 2nd and goal Manning threw a pass to Luke which turned out to be their final touchdowns in their college careers. On Temple's possession, a screen pass from Quinn to Ferguson resulted in Ferguson avoiding two tackles and scoring. Coach Dent decided to go for two points and end the game. On one of the greatest trick plays in history, Quinn faked a Statue of Liberty handoff to Ferguson, then sprinted into the endzone to give the Owls their first national championship.
|Team||1st Quarter||2nd Quarter||3rd Quarter||4th Quarter||Overtime||Final Score|
Temple quarterback Brady Quinn was named Offensive MVP for his 226 passing yards and 4 touchdown passes, in addition to his 86 yards on the ground and 1 rushing touchdown. AJ Hawk was named Defensive MVP for his 2 sacks and 13 tackles.
The game is seen as the symbolic end to the south's dominance of college football, starting with the 2001 merger. Ole Miss's chances at a historic 3-peat were forever dashed, and they would fail to make the playoffs next year. No team from a southern conference would make the championship next year.
Eli Manning would sign with the Arkansas Red Raiders and enjoy success in the Southern Football League, while Quinn would head to the NFL and would be drafted by Crescent City Pioneers.