OXFORD – Ole Miss Football’s chaotic short week seemed destined to end in sheer embarrassment for the Rebels. Instead, it ended with a vicious punch to the pit of the stomach.
The Rebels suffered a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State on Thursday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, with the outcome of the game being decided by a failed two-point conversion attempt, culminating in a 99-yard touchdown drive from Ole Miss only 1:25 left made possible by Will Rogers goal-line fumbling.
The result gave Coach Lane Kiffin his first Egg Bowl loss in three tries. It ended Ole Miss’ dream of back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1959-60. And, perhaps most importantly in a bitter rivalry like this, it sent fans wearing the colors of Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4) home with bragging rights for 12 months.
Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4 SEC) only managed 27 yards in the first five drives of the second half. Those drives resulted in three punts, a turnover on downs, and a fumble. His last drive ended in six points, but the Rebels needed eight.
After taking a one-point lead at 13:46 to go over a field goal, the Bulldogs batted in what proved to be the decisive blow as runner-up lost to Ole Miss Rara Thomas, who charged down the left touchline. He hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Will Rogers that moved the Bulldogs up eight points — a hill too high for the struggling Ole Miss offense to climb, despite Jaxson Dart’s late TD -Pass to Dayton Wade.
The Rebels miss an opportunity to extend their lead in the third quarter
Tavius Robinson was a force in Rogers’ face all night.
Midway through the third quarter, he made one of his most impactful plays, firing Rogers and fumbling the Rebels’ Cedric Johnson. The Rebels took over the Bulldogs’ 36-yard line with a 16-14 lead and had a chance to cushion their defense.
Ole Miss brought the ball to the MSU 6-yard line and stopped – another example of a red-zone offense Ole Miss has failed to hit lately.
Kiffin needed two yards on the fourth down and decided to give it a try. His gamble backfired, and the Rebels returned the ball straight to the Bulldogs. Mississippi State promptly marched 78 yards to kick a field goal with 13:46 left, giving them their first lead since the 12:04 mark of the second quarter.
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The turnover sequence gives Ole Miss two points, but the Bulldogs respond
Rogers came into the Egg Bowl with five interceptions this year and just two in his last eight games.
The Rebels forced him into a big throw midway through the second quarter when Otis Reese caught a pass down the middle. That gave the Rebels the ball at their own 36-yard line, a big gain in field position after starting their previous two drives inside their own 15.
Ole Miss then launched a 13-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that was ended with a fourth pass by Dart to defensive tackle JJ Pegues.
It looked like Ole Miss would go into the half with two points, but the Bulldogs responded, driving 75 yards in 1:47 to set up a 19-yard touchdown reception from Lideatrick Griffin with eight seconds left in the half .
The rebels had to settle for field goals early on
The busiest rebel during a third of Thursday night’s competition might have been kicker Jonathan Cruz.
Ole Miss suffered from the same red-zone issues that plagued them against Arkansas last weekend and struggled to convert their early aggregate-distance advantage into points.
On two of their first three drives, the Rebels ventured into the Mississippi state red zone and failed to hole them, prompting Cruz to shoot short field goals.
On her fourth drive of the game, Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo dropped a touchdown pass across the middle of the field that likely would have been a touchdown pass. The ride faltered and Ole Miss put Cruz back on the field. He delivered from 49 yards to give the Rebels a 9-7 lead early in the second frame.
With the regular season over, Ole Miss will find out his bowl future on Sunday, December 4th.
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at [email protected] or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Ole Miss Football, Lane Kiffin Fall in Egg Bowl in the State of Mississippi