By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss got the fourth-quarter game it wanted, but taking the next step in program-building seems hollow when a double-digit lead is lost in the the final 1 minute, 46 seconds.
The Rebels forced six turnovers, but the ball-protection issues that have plagued them for the life of what is now a 16-game SEC losing streak are still around.
Bo Wallace threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and the other to end a potential game-winning drive – and Texas A&M rallied from a 27-17 deficit to win 30-27 before a stunned Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd of 55,343 on Saturday night.
The Rebels haven’t won an SEC game since defeating Kentucky 42-35 here on Oct. 2, 2010.
Saturday night was arguably their best chance over the life of the streak.
“It was a game we easily could have won,” first-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We had the chance to win it, to put it away. We didn’t get a few breaks, and we didn’t make some plays. Our kids are hurting so bad, because we had a great chance to win the football game.”
Ole Miss led 27-17 after punting the Aggies back to their 21 with 8 minutes, 35 seconds to play.
A sack by Issac Gross quickly pushed Texas A&M back to its 1, but it took redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel just four plays to get the Aggies in the end zone.
Those plays included a 32-yard gain to Mike Evans, who made the catch over Senquez Golson on third-and-19 and a rush of 36 yards by tailback Ben Malena.
Finally, Manziel scrambled 29 yards for the score that made the Ole Miss faithful uncomfortable.
Then with the Rebels (3-3, 0-2 SEC) facing fourth-and-inches – perhaps just one or two inches – from their 38, Freeze elected to try to keep possession, but running back Jeff Scott was stopped for no gain on a read option with Wallace taking the shotgun snap.
“Obviously, I wish I’d have called something different now,” Freeze said.
But he was going to call something. He wasn’t going to punt.
“Not winning an SEC game in however long, I was going for it … period. I didn’t want to kick it back to (Manziel).”
Manziel was 17-for-26 passing for 191 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown. He rushed 20 times for 129 yards and another score.
Texas A&M (4-1, 2-1 SEC) outgained Ole Miss 481-464.
“For a team to have us down like that, it was huge for us to respond the way we did,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “For our team to respond the way they did in an SEC road game, it was huge.”
The Aggies took over after the failed fourth down, and on third-and-3 from the 20 Manziel connected with Ryan Swope on a fade, and Texas A&M led 27-24 with 1:46 left.
Wallace worked the Rebels into field goal range – albeit long range – with a 32-yard pass to Donte Moncrief.
But on first down from the Texas A&M 32 Wallace threw his second pick of the game, to free safety Toney Hurd, and the Aggies ran out the clock.
“I was thinking, ‘We can’t take a sack here and get out of field goal range,’” Wallace said. “I had a guy in my face, and I never saw him.”
Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner praised the play of Wallace – who was 20 for 34 passing for 304 yards – but was non-committal about the quarterback position moving forward.
Seven days later the Rebels, ranked No. 95 in the NCAA in turnover margin, intercepted Manziel twice and forced four fumbles, one of on a punt return that set up Ole Miss at the Texas A&M 5. Seconds later Wallace passed 4 yards to Moncrief on a slant, and the Rebels had a 10-point lead 4 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“Everybody says, ‘We play hard, we play hard.’ Well, eventually we’ve got to win an SEC football game, and we’ve got to come back and prepare next week.”