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OXFORD, Miss. – No. 17 Ole Miss lost a 48-43 heartbreaker to No. 1 Alabama Saturday, dropping the opening game of Southeastern Conference play after first racing out to a 24-3 lead. Though the Rebels gave up a big lead and found themselves down by as many as 18, they never quit.
In the postgame press conference, head coach Hugh Freeze began by saying, “I’m really proud of the effort of our football team. I think we are so shorthanded on defense right now, and for the effort that the young kids gave today, I was real pleased.”
Rebels’ quarterback Chad Kelly finished the night with a career-high 421 yards and three touchdowns in front of a school record crowd of 66,176 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
(Complete game stats here.)
Though the Rebels led 24-3 with 2:47 before the half, Alabama cut the advantage to 24-10 following a three play, 50 yard drive that took 37 seconds off the clock. Ole Miss went three-and-out on the ensuing series, and Alabama again capitalized, as Eddie Jackson returned the Rebels’ punt 85 yards for a touchdown to cut the Ole Miss lead to 24-17 at the half.
In the third quarter, Alabama tied the game at 24 after Chad Kelly was hit at the one and fumbled the ball, which the Tide recovered and converted for a touchdown. With 6:03 remaining in the third quarter, Adam Griffith hit a 30-yard field goal to give Alabama its first lead of the day at 27-24.
Ole Miss kept battling the nation’s top-ranked team, as Kelly responded by taking the Rebels down the field for what appeared to be a touchdown to Damore’ea Stringfellow. After review, the ball was placed at the one yard line. In one of the stranger series of downs, Ole Miss saw two more apparent plays for a touchdown overturned and ultimately was forced to settle for an 18-yard Wunderlich field goal that tied the game at 27 with 1:47 left in the third.
Much like two prize fighters who keep punching away at each other until the final bell sounds, the Tide answered the Rebels’ score with a four-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown that gave Alabama a 34-27 lead
On the ensuing drive, Kelly marched the Rebels down the field to the ‘Bama 21-yard line, but the Rebels were forced to settle for another field goal from Wunderlich, this time a 38-yard score that cut the Alabama lead to 34-30. After scoring 14 unanswered points via a touchdown run in the fourth quarter, combined with an interception return for a touchdown, the Tide led the Rebels 48-30 with 2:59 remaining in the game.
It was at this point that many Rebels probably felt as if all was lost; however, in “never quit” fashion, the Rebels kept fighting. Kelly hit Damore’ea Stringfellow in the endzone for a touchdown that brought Ole Miss to within 48-37.
The Rebels then successfully recovered their onside kick and, on the very next play, saw Kelly hit freshman wide receiver A.J. Brown for a 37-yard touchdown. Though the two-point conversion was unsuccessful, Ole Miss was within five points, 48-43, with 2:51 to go—having scored two touchdowns in 8 seconds.
Ole Miss kicked off to the Tide and looked in good position; however, Alabama converted a third-and-inches situation at the 45 yard line of the Rebels which ended the Rebels’ hope for the win.
When asked what his team will do to bounce back from losing two games in which it had a big lead, Freeze replied:
Hugh Freeze on bouncing back after two losses
In addition to his 26-of-41 passing for 421 yards and three touchdowns, Kelly ran for 48 yards. Akeem Judd finished with 45 yards on 15 carries.
Senior tight end Evan Engram led all receivers with 9 receptions for 138 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt freshman Van Jefferson hauled in 6 catches for 91 yards, while Damore’ea Stringfellow caught four of Kelly’s passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. Freshman A.J. Brown grabbed 2 for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Ole Miss plays the Georgia Bulldogs next Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway. Kickoff is at 11:00 am (CT) and the game will be televised on ESPN.
Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn’s love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn has covered Rebel sports for numerous outlets. In addition to working for The Rebel Walk, Evelyn is a sports writer for a newspaper in Texas.