After two weeks of close-and-almost loses, the Rebels got another opportunity for a huge win. This time, they took advantage and defeated 6th-ranked LSU 27-24 on an Andrew Ritter field goal in the waning seconds of a hard-fought SEC battle.
This time there were no bad reads.
This time there were no dropped passes.
This time there were no miscues of any time.
This time, finally, there was no heartbreak.
This time, the Rebels finished what they started, knocking off powerhouse LSU 27-24 before a raucous crowd of over 61,000.
How, after two straight heartbreaking losses and with nearly a half of their defensive starters out, did this Ole Miss team pull off what most thought was the unthinkable?
Execution and heart.
The battered Rebel defense forced three first-half turnovers and sacked LSU QB Zack Metternberger three times while playing, sometimes, with three true freshmen on the field who didn’t have enough snaps in the first six games between them to count.
“Considering how thin we were, how many injuries we had, who we were facing, how little experience some of the guys we were relying on had and how we had performed last week defensively, this is definitely one of the highlights of my coaching career,” said Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys the way they fought for 60 minutes.
“And I can’t say enough about the job Coach Freeze did in getting these kids mentally ready for this challenge. He’s the best I have ever seen at that and I have worked for some great coaches.”
The Rebel offense kept the ball five more minutes than LSU’s offense, giving the shorthanded defense ample time to rest between each Tiger possession, and they put up 525 – 197 of those rushing – yards on a vaunted LSU defense.
“Let me say this, we ran the ball against a great defensive line. We ran the ball against a great defensive line – I want to repeat it,” said Freeze. “Again, we ran the ball against a great defensive line. Our offensive line did a tremendous job.
“Once we were able to establish the run and become balanced, I knew we were going to control the clock and put points up. Did I say we ran the ball against a great defensive line?”
Coming into the game, off a heartbreaking last-second loss to Texas A&M just seven short days ago, this looked like a no-brainer.
It wasn’t whether or not LSU would win, it was by how much.
But somebody forgot to tell the Rebels.
“Sometimes God wets the wood before he’ll let you start a fire,” said Freze. “These close losses we have had have been tough, but you have to move on and get back up. It’s not how you fall, everyone falls, it’s how you get back up.”
In the last three weeks, after a 3-0 start, the Rebels had “their wood wet” three straight weeks, two of which they felt they should have started a fire – Auburn and Texas A&M.
Along the way, they started losing key players to injury, particularly on defense. Robert Nkemdiche, Serderius Bryant, Mike Hilton, C.J. Johnson, Carlos Thompson and, Thursday night, Senquez Golson to suspension.
Boy, did they.
Brown had one of three first-half interceptions to thwart LSU’s first assault of the night. Cody Prewitt intercepted another in the end zone and Charles Sawyer, hurt shoulder and all, intercepted another deep in Rebel territory.
“I think us getting those turnovers was huge for our psyche and for our crowd,” said Freeze. “They set the tone for the game and let our crowd, and our offense, know they were in it for the long haul.”
But try as they might, the Rebels could not shake the Tigers, who tied the score at 24 each with just 3:15 left on the clock.
Not this again. . . not another close-and-almost. . . not another heartbreaker. . .
No, this time, the offense took over on their 15 after a short kickoff return and would not be denied.
Two huge third-down conversions, one on a Bo Wallace run, another on a Ja-Mes Logan reception (redemption for that senior after last week’s critical late drop), and 59 yards later and Ritter was lining up for the game-winning 41-yarder.
It was no chip shot, and remember, Ritter had just had one from 30 yards blocked on a low kick.
The snap was perfect, the hold was perfect and he hit the ball with authority. It looked as if it was headed right but sneaked in just inside the right upright.
The Rebs had pulled off the improbable, the upset, the game many Rebel fans want more than any, and several weeks of heartache were erased.
This time, they finished what they started.
This time, the only tears in the locker room were tears of joy.
–Chuck Rounsaville, OMSpirit.com, PublisherSign up to receive Hottytoddy.com morning and evening headline emails HERE!