By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss fed Donte Moncrief and made Mississippi State eat its words.
Moncrief tied a school record with three touchdown receptions to lead the Rebels to a 41-24 Egg Bowl trouncing of No. 25 Mississippi State in front of 61,005 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5 SEC) snapped a three-game losing streak to the Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4), and in the process secured bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009.
Since before the season, MSU seniors talked about going 4-0 versus their arch rival. That talk was ramped up during Egg Bowl week.
Instead, it was a milestone win for first-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who inherited a program that had lost 14 consecutive SEC games entering the season.
“Happy and thrilled for (the players), then also the people of Rebel Nation who have had to go through losing the momentum in this series,” Freeze said. “I understand that’s difficult. I’ve lived it.
“I’ve been through it, and I know how important it is to this state, to our university and our kids were very aware of that tonight.”
In the waning seconds, the Ole Miss video board played – over and over – the clip of MSU coach Dan Mullen saying, after winning here two years ago, “We’re never going to lose to this team again!” Students then streamed onto the field at the final horn.
“They love me here,” Mullen said with a grin. “I’ll tell you what, they keep putting me on the Jumbotron here, I love it. That’s how much they love me.”
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace bounced back from three first-half turnovers, completing 15 of 22 passes for 294 yards and five touchdowns. He found Moncrief, a sophomore, seven times for 173 yards.
“We really felt like we had things in our play action pass that we could throw at any time,” Freeze said. “I would have been really disappointed if we couldn’t have thrown some play-pass, and that was very effective for us all night.”
The Rebels out-gained MSU in total yardage, 527-333. The Bulldogs were held to a season-low 30 rushing yards on 25 attempts, with tailback LaDarius Perkins gaining 45 on 16 carries.
The Bulldogs forced three first-half turnovers – two Wallace interceptions and a Wallace fumble – but got no points out of them. It was 17-17 at halftime.
Jeff Scott rushed for 111 yards on 28 carries for Ole Miss, which totaled 233 yards on the ground.
Ole Miss was leading 20-17 in the third quarter when linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche intercepted Tyler Russell, and four plays later Wallace hit Moncrief for a 21-yard touchdown. It snowballed from there.
On the next drive, Wallace hit Moncrief for a 16-yard score, and it was 34-17 after three quarters.
Russell took a lot of hits and finished 18 of 33 for 268 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. It was his first multi-interception game of the season.
“He was holding the ball a little bit long, missed a couple of throws, had a couple of high throws, especially in the first half, and never got himself in rhythm,” Mullen said.
Charles Sawyer had nine tackles for the Rebels; C.J. Johnson had a pair of sacks. MSU gained only 115 total yards in the second half.
Both teams now await bowl selection. Likely destinations are the Gator Bowl for MSU and the Liberty Bowl (Memphis) or BBVA Compass Bowl (Birmingham)for Ole Miss.
It’s the first time since 2000 that both teams are bowl eligible.
Freeze was asked if, in his first year, he’d take 6-6 and a blowout win over MSU.
“Absolutely. I probably would have chuckled first.”