PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Gary Nova threw touchdown passes of 33 and 4 yards to Leonte Carroo in the final 9:55 and Rutgers rallied from a 17-point, second-half deficit to beat previously undefeated Arkansas 28-24 on Saturday.
Janarion Grant sparked the rally with a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter and he set up the game-winning 4-yard score to Carroo with 5:18 to play with a 47-yard punt return to the Arkansas 33, a play on which the officials might have missed a block in the back.
Nova, who was knocked out of last week’s game with a concussion, also threw a 15-yard touchdown to tight end Tyler Kroft as the Scarlet Knights (3-1) won their third straight.
Tevin Mitchel scored on a 26-yard interception return for Arkansas (3-1) which pulled out a lot of trick plays in trying for its first 4-0 start since 2003.
AJ Derby, starting for the injured Brandon Allen, threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Javontee Herndon and halfback Jonathan Williams connected with Hunter Henry on a 21-yard scoring pass for the Hogs, who seemed to be in total control midway through the second half after opening the 24-7 lead.
Arkansas’s first points came on a 41-yard field goal by Zach Hocker, a score set up by a pass off a fake punt to a center eligible.
Nova finished 22 of 43 for 346 yards. He also threw an interception and lost two fumbles.
The big play for Rutgers — and the one that ignited the crowd of 51,969, the fifth largest in school history — was Grant’s punt return.
Arkansas punter Sam Irwin-Hill, who threw the pass on the fake punt, rolled to his right after taking the long snap and punted the ball on the run.
Unfortunately for the Hogs, the kick went across the field to Grant’s right, and away from the coverage. Grant fielded the ball on a bounce, started downing down the right side and then cut across the field, leaving the Razorbacks in his dust.
Rutgers dominated the fourth quarter, a period Arkansas had outscored opponents 21-0. Nova led a six-play, 98-yard drive, completing a 25-yard pass to Brandon Coleman and a 42-yard catch and run to Kroft, who finished with six catches for 133 yards.
On fourth and 12 from the Arkansas 33, he found his former Don Bosco Prep teammate Carroo on a 33-yard swing pattern up the right sideline to cut the gap to three points with 9:55 to go.
Grant, who returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the season opener, got Rutgers going on its next possession, fielding a punt and motoring to the Razorbacks 33. A block that was seemingly illegal by Ruhann Peele sprung the speedster.
A 17-yard pass to Quron Pratt and a 12 yarder to Carroo set up the score on a ball Carroo caught while almost sitting down.
Arkansas was outgained 208-103 in the opening half but made a couple of big plays in taking a 10-7 lead.
A 24-yard pass by Irwin-Hill to center eligible Alan D’Appollonio on fourth down from midfield set up a 41-yard field goal by Hocker with 1:51 left in the first quarter.
Three plays later, Tevin Mitchell stepped in front of a hurried pass by Nova in the right flat and went 26 yards on an interception return for a 10-0 lead.
Rutgers didn’t get back into the game until just before halftime and Arkansas linebacker Jarrett Lake made a gigantic error to help. With Rutgers facing a second-and-25 from the Hogs’ 34, Lake hit Nova after he went out of bounds on a 4-yard scramble. It gave Rutgers a first down at the 15 and two plays later, Nova hit Kroft on a seam pattern for a touchdown.
The Razorbacks staff knew there was something wrong just before the snap, and ran out on the field in an attempt to call time out, but didn’t get it.
Derby threw his touchdown pass on the opening series of the second half and Williams’ TD pass was set up when Nova was sacked by Trey Flowers and Chris Smith recovered at the Scarlet Knights’ 21.