By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
In their first Egg Bowl under head coach Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss players made a statement much louder than any billboard could — they’re back and ready to take over the state.
Saturday night’s 41-24 victory against Mississippi State broke a string of three straight Egg Bowl victories for the Bulldogs and gave the Rebels their sixth win, making them bowl eligible.
“We are the University of Mississippi,” wide receiver Donte Moncrief said. “This is our state.”
It only took quarterback Bo Wallace and the Ole Miss offense four plays to go 71 yards and get on the board first. Wallace went 3-of-3 on the opening drive, ending with a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jamal Mosley to put the Rebels up 7-0.
MSU wouldn’t waste anytime answering the call, as Jameon Lewis took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to the house to erase the deficit in just 15 seconds. The 100-yard kick return was the longest play in the 109-year history of the Egg Bowl.
The Bulldogs would strike again with 4:08 left in the quarter, when former Meridian High School quarterback Tyler Russell channeled his inner Johnny Manziel, scrambling away from pressure and finding a wide-open Chad Bumphis for a 42-yard touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead.
Up 14-10 on fourth-and-2 from the Ole Miss 18-yard line, MSU head coach Dan Mullen took the first gamble of the ballgame. The Bulldogs marched out backup quarterback Dak Prescott onto the field to pick up the short yardage. Prescott faked a quarterback draw and attempted a jump-throw, which fell incomplete, turning the ball over to the Rebels.
Wallace made MSU pay two plays later, when he found Moncrief on a 77-yard touchdown to give the Rebels a 17-14 lead and shift the momentum in the game.
“That play was huge,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “The whole key was, we didn’t turn the ball over in the second half. In the first half, we turned the ball over, we shanked two punts and they returned a kickoff, and we were still tied. We knew if we just played halfway decent, we’d come out alright.”
After MSU tacked on a field goal to tie the game at 17 heading into the half, the Rebels would explode in the second half.
Wallace found Moncrief for two more scores in the third, the first from 21 yards out, followed by another from 16 yards later in the quarter. The sophomore receiver finished the day with seven catches for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
“I was expecting a big game, ” Moncrief said. “I knew I needed a big game because my team needed me bad.”
Moncrief’s performance is even more impressive considering he was matched up against one of the most talented cornerbacks in college football, MSU’s Jonathan Banks.
“After that first play when I caught on him, I could see he was aggravated,” Moncrief said. “They kept switching defensive backs on me, but it didn’t work. Coach Freeze made some good calls, and when they went to man, we made big plays.”
Ole Miss outscored the Bulldogs 17-0 in the third quarter, taking a 34-17 lead into the fourth and putting the score safely out of reach.
“This win was huge,” Wallace said. “Especially because of the heartbreak we have had this year. To come out and get a sixth win is something a lot of people didn’t think we could do. It was just huge for us and this program.”