By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
BATON ROUGE, La. – On the day that LSU honored its “clock game” heroes, the Tigers’ comeback win had the eerie feeling of that 1972 day, an officials’ disputed call on the decisive drive.
It had the feel of 1959 too, with a punt return touchdown – of 89 yards no less, just like Billy Cannon’s.
The sum of all the parts had the feel of Ole Miss coming close yet again, with the Rebels losing a game they led with less then 2 minutes to play for the second time in two weeks, the third time this season.
LSU freshman Jeremy Hill scored on a 1-yard run with 15 seconds left to rally the nation’s No. 8 team to a 41-35 win before a crowd of 92,872 at Tiger Stadium on Saturday.
The winning drive started at the LSU 36 after Ole Miss kicker Bryson Rose missed from 53 yards – wide right – in a tie game.
“I’m proud of the effort that was given tonight, particularly with us being short-handed. Our kids fought for our university and our fans. They should be proud of them,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5 SEC) goes into next weekend’s regular-season finale against rival Mississippi State needing a win for bowl-eligibility.
The Rebels have lost three straight since defeating Arkansas in Little Rock on Oct. 27.
Through three interceptions by quarterback Bo Wallace and a muffed punt by Korvic Neat, the Rebels were in position to win.
“We can’t seem to get the stop we have to have or the touchdown we have to have, but our kids made a lot of plays agains a fine football team,” Freeze said.
LSU (9-2, 5-2) faced a first down at its 35 when its quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, passed incomplete, and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, 5-foot-11, was called for a personal foul for leading with his head on a high hit against the 6-foot-5 Mettenberger.
Freeze didn’t comment on the call beyond saying the officials’ explanation was that Nkemdiche hit Mettenberger in the helmet. Nkemdiche denied it.
“I’d have to jump to get helmet to helmet with him,” Nkemdiche said. “I was absolutely shocked. Coach didn’t get on to me about it, because they felt it wasn’t a flag at all, but it’s part of the game.”
Also part of the game were mistakes by Wallace and Neat, leading to 13 LSU points in the first half and early third quarter.
Wallace’s third interception minutes after the Rebels received the second half kickoff and set up the Tigers at the Ole Miss 20. The Rebels’ defense stiffened, and LSU settled for a 24-yard field goal by Drew Alleman. Ole Miss led 21-20 with 11 minutes, 42 seconds left in the third when it could have been 21-7.
Rose’s 53-yard attempt had to be that long, because after reaching the LSU 16 with the clock winding down, the LSU defense responded with a tackle for loss and two straight sacks.
“At times our defense was dominant,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
The Tigers had just tied the game at 35 on Odell Beckham’s punt return.
“That was maybe the biggest momentum change of the game,” Miles said.
Wallace passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns – strikes to Donte Moncrief of 56 and 30 yards – and scored on runs of 1 and 58 yards.
A bruised shoulder caused Wallace to be held out of practice during the week and affected him during the game.
“It doesn’t matter. If you’re in the game you have to make plays,” he said.
Wallace made a big play in the run game when outran LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, the 58-yarder for the game’s first points.
Still, he wasn’t in the game when the Rebels had a chance to run two plays 15 seconds left after Hill’s touchdown, because Freeze said it would have been “unfair” to ask Wallace to throw the ball downfield at that point.
“It was a great game in this rivalry,” Freeze said. “It’s unfortunate that we can’t celebrate one.”