New Orleans (NWAOnline.com) - Sometimes experience is the biggest difference.
That was the prevailing thought as the final seconds rolled off the clock at the Louisiana Superdome Tuesday night with the final score reading: Ohio State 31, Arkansas 26.
Playing in its sixth consecutive BCS game, Ohio State looked the part of the of the veteran team, building a 21-point first half lead before making a pair of critical stops in its own territory in the waning minutes of the 77th annual Sugar Bowl.
For Arkansas, a program playing its first BCS-affiliated bowl in nearly a quarter-century, the stage seemed almost too big early on. Dropped passes and missed tackles were an all-too common theme in the first half and the Hogs trailed 28-10 at the intermission.
To the Razorbacks' credit they fought back and had a golden opportunity to win. If only Julian Horton, a freshman, had known there were no Ohio State defenders within dozens of yards on that blocked punt in the final minute, he could have scooped up the ball and walked his way into Arkansas lore.
Such is the way it happens with young players sometimes, however, and the same can be said for young teams. In this case, Arkansas will learn from its BCS infancy as it was apparent this group of Buckeyes learned from its own.
"This win was for our seniors – 24 guys have given their heart and soul to Ohio State and led us to the most wins of anyone in a career," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "They're just a special bunch."
After all, Ohio State lost three consecutive BCS games between the 2006 and 2008 seasons before beating Oregon last year in the Rose Bowl. On Tuesday, the Buckeyes' experience was the key intangible in a classic game both fan bases are sure to be talking about for a long time.
"That's a tough loss for us. We spotted them too much," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "Ohio State made a lot of plays in the first half and some great catches, and we were not able to execute. Really, we were not ready to go. We regrouped at halftime and played with great effort and pride. We had our opportunities."
While a bitter pill to swallow, the loss does little to take away from a great 10-3 season for the Razorbacks. Just getting to this point in the season is a feat few can boast. Doing so in the third season under Petrino is proof the Razorbacks are on the right track and in good hands for the foreseeable future.
"I'm very proud of this football team, what they accomplished throughout the year," Petrino said. "They showed their character and toughness in the second half."
It's the first time Arkansas has gone into the off-season with a loss under Petrino. But this one doesn't feel entirely like a loss, but more a learning experience. The Razorbacks are sure to remember their first taste at this level and want more.
"We're going to come back swinging and take another shot at the BCS," said quarterback Ryan Mallett, who noted he hadn't decided if he would return to the school in 2011.
This team went places no other had gone in decades at Arkansas and competed well. That should serve as much momentum as any win in any other bowl ever could.