Refusing to give up, Ole Miss defeats No. 16 Mississippi State 31-28 and brings Egg Bowl Trophy back to Oxford
STARKVILLE, Miss. – I would have given anything to be in the locker room to hear Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke’s pregame speech before the Rebels took the field against Mississippi State in Starkville. It must have been masterful, as Ole Miss looked inspired from the opening kickoff to the final gun, en route to defeating Mississippi State 31-28 in this year’s Egg Bowl.
I reported earlier this year that this team is different—this staff is different. I told you the culture was changing, and I told you the coaches were focused on finishing.
I’ve said all along that this team is different. Why? Because every single time you count them out, and every time you think there is absolutely NO possible way they could get up again, they dig their bloody claws into the ground, pull themselves back up to their knees, and grab hold of each other and get back upright.
I’ve been around sports for many years as a player, a coach, and a parent of a college player. Never have I witnessed a group that lived more by the mantra of, “always get up one more time than you get knocked down.”
Rebels refuse to give up
The Rebels travelled to Starkville for the last game of the season Thursday night—in what was the last game for many of the players and, potentially, the last game for Matt Luke as the head coach of the Rebels.
Heading into the game, Ole Miss was giving up approximately 445 total yards per game, 245 against the run. State entered the game averaging 245 yards on the ground and approximately 400 yards of total offense per game. It looked as if it might be a recipe for disaster. Prognosticators told you MSU would run wild on the Rebels’ defense. State was a 14-point favorite according to Las Vegas.
But guess what? The Rebels bowed their necks, and, for 3.5 quarters, they completely shut down the Bulldogs’ offense. Did they give up yards? Yes. But when you hit the opponent in the mouth and create five turnovers, you can afford to give up some yards.
Favorite moment of the first half: #HottyToddy @Bspeaks9 pic.twitter.com/osm1MF40VE
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) November 24, 2017
It was obvious the Ole Miss defense came to play. DeMarquis Gates, Breeland Speaks, and Benito Jones were a force to be reckoned with. The undersized and oft criticized Tayler Polk caused a huge fumble that the Rebels’ recovered. Myles Hartsfield and C.J. Moore tallied key interceptions.
The offense did its part as well. Senior running back Jordan Wilkins ran wild on the Bulldogs. He finished with 110 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns, eclipsing the single-season, 1,000-yard mark for the first time for an Ole Miss running back since Dexter McCluster did so in 2009. He’s only the seventh Rebel with that accomplishment.
Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu threw some spectacular passes, finishing 10-22 for 247 yards and two touchdowns. The NWO’s were led by Starkville Native A.J. Brown who went nuts on State’s secondary.
Brown became the single-season Ole Miss record-holder in receiving yards with 1,252, surpassing Laquon Treadwell’s 1,153 yards in 2015.
For those of you who jumped off the Matt Luke bandwagon after the Alabama game, you should consider jumping back on it after the State game, and here’s why. Last year, I was on the field when State visited Oxford with a bowl berth on the line. Ole Miss got completely run out of Vaught-Hemingway that day—losing 55-20.
Tonight, Coach Luke had his boys more than ready to go to “cowbell hell,” and they competed from the first whistle to the final gun. This year, the tables were turned and the Rebels left Starkville in possession of the Egg Bowl trophy after a 31-28 win.
I proudly covered this bunch this year.
I enjoyed watching this staff strive to get better each and every week.
I enjoyed the culture change.
I enjoyed seeing the achievements of the young men who worked so hard all season.
I enjoyed watching these young men compete, regardless of whether anyone gave them a chance at victory.
I enjoyed watching them continue to fight hard, refusing to give up in the face of so much adversity.
I enjoyed the 2017 Ole Miss Rebels.
Thanks to Coach Luke, the staff and the fine young men on the team for your effort and determination in 2017. Whatever the future holds for each one of you, no one can take this learning experience away from you. I hope Coach Luke gets a fair shake to continue to build upon what he started this year.
Not enough words to say how proud we are of this Ole Miss team. They faced more adversity than any team we can think of. Congrats to @CoachMattLuke and the entire #OleMiss team! (Video credit: Kelby Howell, The Rebel Walk) ❤️💙 pic.twitter.com/XmHvvKxNoS
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) November 24, 2017
Until next year, Hotty Toddy!
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)
Dan Anderson is a photographer and writer for The Rebel Walk. In addition to his work covering Ole Miss football and baseball for The Rebel Walk, Dan has written for a number of newspapers and has experience as a public address announcer, handling both play-by-play and color commentary. Dan has been involved with athletics as a player, coach or parent for 40 years, and brings this unique perspective to his coverage, whether through his lens or with his pen.