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Gamer: Oh, What a Night! Ole Miss beats State, 31-21, in Starkville

Gamer: Oh, What a Night! Ole Miss beats State, 31-21, in Starkville

STARKVILLE, Miss. – Many expected deuces to be wild in Starkvegas Thursday, but the Landsharks had a lucky seven in their hand and when the cards were shown, Ole Miss had topped Mississippi State, 31-21.

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral – wearing No. 2 – threw for 234 yards, but the Landshark defense had a trump card wearing No. 7.

Sam Williams was a force for the Ole Miss defense. Despite only rushing three defenders for most of the game, Williams sacked State quarterback Will Rogers twice, harassed him all night and forced the Bulldogs into three holding penalties against him.

The win gives Ole Miss its first 10-win regular season in school history.

“It is not easy, but guys rose to the occasion and found a way to win. They did it. It wasn’t easy. They have a top-10 rush defense and we’re on the road,” head coach Lane Kiffin said after the win.

I’m just so proud of our guys. It is just awesome to see them [win]…To watch them sing there at the end and enjoy it is really neat. I have been telling them all week, ‘You can do things that are special, but it is really special when you can do something that has never been done before.’ They have never won 10 regular season games. For this group of players and assistant coaches to do that is really cool.

Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin

But despite the final score, both offenses started slow.

First-half action

A roll of the dice on the first fourth down for Ole Miss came up craps as Ealy was dropped for a loss and State had its initial possession begin at the Rebels’ 33.

The Landsharks employed their bend-don’t-break philosophy and forced State into a 34-yard Nolan McCord field goal to give MSU an early 3-0 lead.

Ole Miss took the ensuing drive and used several big plays to get the ball inside the five and face a third-and-goal. But a false start moved the Rebels back and after not moving on third down, Cale Nation came on and kicked a 25-yarder to tie the score.

After getting the call when Caden Costa was scratched from the lineup, it was not only Nation’s first field goal of the season, but it was also the walk-on’s first of his career.

The Bulldogs – this time without a short field – showed they could mount a sustained drive. MSU took the ball to the Ole Miss 7, but a sack by Mark Robinson forced another McCord field goal, this one from 29 yards, and State held a 6-3 edge.

That score held until the end of the opening period.

After driving to midfield, Ole Miss was forced to punt, and the Rebels were a hair away from downing Mac Brown’s kick inside the one, but the ball made the end zone and State took over on its 20 after a touchback.

Again, Mississippi State was able to drive into Rebels’ territory, but again, the Landsharks stiffened and forced the Bulldogs into their third field goal attempt, but this time McCord’s 40-yarder slipped outside the right upright to preserve the Ole Miss three-point deficit.

The Rebels erased that deficit a few minutes later. Ole Miss drove 78 yards in 18 plays – highlighted by a 26-yard pass from Corral to Braylon Sanders to convert a second-and-22 situation – and it led to Snoop Conner barreling into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.

Nation’s kick gave Ole Miss its first lead, 10-6, with 2:21.

It took 27 minutes and 39 seconds for either of the high-flying offenses to find paydirt.

Mississippi State did not need much time to get into the end zone – or so it seemed. As the Bulldogs were at the doorsteps of the Ole Miss end zone, State receivers dropped three consecutive passes surrounding a devastating holding penalty to force another MSU field goal attempt that McCord again missed to the right.

That provided the 10-6 halftime score.

Second-half action

Mississippi State was forced to punt on its first second-half possession to give the Rebels the ball at their own 18.

Seven plays later, Conner had his second 1-yard scoring run to increase the lead.

The 82-drive was highlighted by a 34-yard catch and run by Dontario Drummond and Corral’s 15-yard sprint to set the Rebels up at the MSU 1. From there, Conner scored his 13th touchdown of the season. Nation’s kick put Ole Miss up 17-6 early in the third quarter.

A Williams’ sack thwarted the next State drive, and the Rebels took possession at the 22 midway through the third period.

A promising drive was crushed when Corral’s 42-yard run was negated by a holding penalty. It was the first three-and-out of the game for Ole Miss.

State moved downfield again into Ole Miss territory, but a pair of holding penalties by the Bulldogs forced MSU into a fourth-down conversion attempt. The play never had a chance as Williams collected his second sack to give the ball back to the Rebels at their own 39.

Ole Miss then embarked on its most-impressive drive of the night. It covered 61 yards in 14 plays and more importantly, took nearly seven minutes off the clock. Again, the Rebels converted a fourth down and once the ball was inside the State 5, Corral dropped to pass, tucked the ball and ran up the middle, spinning past a Bulldog defender for the 4-yard scoring run.

Nation’s kick put the Rebels ahead 24-6 early in the fourth period.

State was able to move the ball on the next possession – mainly on the targeting penalty against Mark Robinson – but the Landsharks again did not break, knocking down a fourth-down pass to give the offense the ball at the 50.

Corral made one mistake a few plays later when he threw an interception that Jett Johnson returned to the Ole Miss 22. A pair of offsides by K.D. Hill allowed State to score on an 11-yard pass from Rogers to Jaden Walley. The conversion cut the lead to 24-13 with 7:20 left in the game.

Ole Miss recovered the ensuing onside kick looking to both score and run as much time off the clock as possible.

The Rebels accomplished both – sort of. Ealy capped a drive that took less than two minutes, but he did it with a 15-yard scoring reception and run up the middle. After Nation hit his fourth conversion, Ole Miss led 31-13 with 5:35 remaining.

It was Corral’s 20th scoring pass of the year.

In panic mode, the Bulldogs quickly moved downfield, driving to a fourth-and-1 at the Ole Miss 20. MSU converted and Jo’quavious Marks ran for an 11-yard score. State’s two-point conversion was successful to cut the lead to 10, 31-21 with 2:27 left.

Sanders grabbed the onside kick to give Ole Miss another chance to salt the game away. The Rebels turned the ball over on downs at the State 41, but the Bulldogs were left with only 1:19 left to play.

State got deep into the Rebels’ territory, but time ran out.

Corral finished 25-of-33 and he ran for 45 yards. Ealy had a game-high 60 yards on the ground and Conner added another 54. Drummond grabbed 14 passes for 138 yards.

Williams was not alone on defense as Chance Campbell had 12 tackles while Jake Springer added 10.

(Feature image: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)

About The Author

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers. He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio. A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series. Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time. He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk. Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.

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