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Rebels capture bowl berth with Egg Bowl win

Ole Miss became bowl eligible Saturday night, winning its sixth game of the season against in-state rival Mississippi State, 41-24. The Rebels will wait to learn their bowl game destination on Sunday.
Quentin Winstine/The Daily Mississippian

 
For the first time since 2009, Ole Miss will be playing in a bowl game. The bowl berth was even sweeter this season because the Rebels (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) captured it on the last game of the year against in-state rival No. 25 Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 SEC), with a 41-24 win Saturday night in the annual Egg Bowl. 
 
“I cannot be more proud of this group of young men and coaches,” head coach Hugh Freeze said. “I’m first and foremost happy and thrilled for them, and then secondly for our fans, administration and the people of Rebel Nation who had to go through losing the momentum in this series. I understand that was difficult. 
 
“I’ve lived it. I’ve been through it, and I know how important it is to this state and to our university, and our kids were very aware of that tonight.”
 
Not only did the win secure postseason play for Ole Miss, it also brought the Golden Egg trophy back to Oxford after it had been in Starkville for the past three years. 
 
Things got off to a quick start in the game, with Ole Miss striking first after barely any time had ticked off the clock in the first quarter. Sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace found senior tight end Jamal Mosley from 25 yards out, giving the Rebels an early 7-0 lead. 
 
However, the lead was short lived. On the ensuing kickoff, Jameon Lewis went 100 yards to bring Mississippi State even at 7-7. The Bulldogs would strike again and take their only lead of the game with just under three minutes left in the first quarter on a 42-yard pass from quarterback Tyler Russell to wide receiver Chad Bumphis. 
 
Ole Miss would answer with a field goal to draw within four, and later in the quarter, Wallace hit sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief on a 77-yard pass for a touchdown, pushing the Rebels into the lead, 17-14. Mississippi State tacked on a field goal to tie things up at 17 heading into half, but in the second half, a completely different Ole Miss team emerged from the locker room.
 
To have the game tied at 17 at half seemed like an accomplishment for Ole Miss, which played a mediocre first half compared to its performance in the second half, when it outscored the Bulldogs 24-7.
 
“The difference was no two shanked punts, no three turnovers, no kickoff return, no blown coverages,” Freeze said. “If you look at the first half, the reason they scored the points they did was we blew two coverages, gave up a kickoff return, and we shanked two punts and gave them short fields. Second half, we didn’t do those things.”
 
Freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said the halftime message was simple.
 
“We know how it is to be heartbroken and to lose those close games in the second half, and we aren’t going to let it happen again,” he said. “That was what was going on in the locker room.” 
 
Ole Miss began the scoring in the second half with a 41-yard field goal from senior Bryson Rose, his second of the night, giving the Rebels the lead, which they would not surrender the rest of the night.
 
Wallace hit Moncrief two more times for touchdowns of 21 and 16 yards, respectively, increasing the Ole Miss lead to 34-17. Wallace then found sophomore wide receiver Vince Sanders from 16 yards out early in the fourth quarter to seal the game for Ole Miss. Mississippi State would add a late touchdown to make the final 41-24, but their fate had been decided much earlier.
 
Statistically, Ole Miss dominated the game Saturday. The Rebels gained 527 yards of total offense, which was the third time this season they eclipsed 500 yards of total offense. The total included 233 yards rushing, which was the fifth time Ole Miss eclipsed the 200-yard mark this season. 
 
Moncrief finished the night with seven catches for a career-high 173 yards and tied the school record with three touchdown catches in the game. The 173 yards ranks fourth in school history but is the most a Rebel receiver has had against Mississippi State. Moncrief also tied the school record with 10 touchdown receptions on the year. 
 
“It was great feeling how it felt to beat State,” Moncrief said. “This is my second time playing them. The first time they got us, and it hurt me, so I knew I had to come out and help get my team the victory because I knew they really wanted it. Our seniors needed to go to a bowl game, and I didn’t want to let them down.”
 
Wallace also had a big night offensively, despite having a rough start to the game, throwing for 294 yards and five touchdowns. His five touchdown passes in the game tied for the third-most in school history. Wallace also moved into fourth place in school history for passing yards in a season with 2,843 yards.
 
“I think I was clicking in the first half; I was just trying to make too many big plays,” Wallace said. “My emotions kind of got to me. Going in, my emotions were probably too high, and it made me make some bad decisions, but in the second half I just came out and started playing football.”
 
Defensively, the Rebels also shined, giving up only 333 total yards to the Bulldogs, but perhaps the most noticeable stat was Mississippi State gaining only 30 yards rushing on 25 attempts. Ole Miss also intercepted Russell twice on the night. 
 
“I’m so proud of them because I told them at halftime, ‘Eleven and a half games, this is it. It could be the seniors’ last chance to put on their pads,’” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “They just came out and played one snap at a time fired up, and it is a lot more fun than those other three games we lost in the last few minutes. 
 
“I just thought the second half especially we played like we were supposed to play as a team, offense, defense, kicking game.”
 
Ole Miss heads into the bowl season, and they will find out their destination in Sunday’s selection show. Likely destinations for the Rebels include the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl in Shreveport on Dec. 28, the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville on Dec. 31, the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Dec. 31 and the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham on Jan. 5.
 
For continuing coverage of Ole Miss football, follow @thedm_sports and @SigNewton_2 on Twitter.