By David Brandt/The Associated Press
OXFORD — On the final crazy play of a crazy game, Jacksonville State running back Calvin Middleton found himself in the middle of a mass of bodies as quarterback Coty Blanchard lofted a 2-point conversion pass toward the end zone.
Somehow, through the arms and legs, Middleton came down with the football as the Gamecocks celebrated a stunning 49-48 victory over Ole Miss in double overtime.
“The coaches called a shovel pass,” Middleton said. “I don’t even know if (Blanchard) saw me, but I knew if I could catch it I was deep enough in the end zone to score.
“This means everything.”
Blanchard threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Kevyn Cooper on fourth-and-15 to pull within 48-47 in the second overtime.
It looked like the two teams might play all night, but then Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe made the call to go for the win in the season opener for both teams.
“I just didn’t think we could play defense again,” Crowe said.
Crowe, who had tears in his eyes during the postgame press conference, was fired as coach at Arkansas in 1992 after his team lost to The Citadel — which was also a lower-level program.
“If you stay in this long enough, it goes both ways,” Crowe said.
Jacksonville State, a Football Championship Subdivision team from the Ohio Valley Conference, trailed 31-10 at halftime but outscored Ole Miss 21-3 in the fourth quarter to force overtime.
“Without a doubt, it’s the worst loss of my career,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
It’s the first time Jacksonville State has beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team since Sept. 27, 2001, when the Gamecocks beat Arkansas State. The 21-point deficit was the largest Jacksonville State has overcome in school history.
Jeremiah Masoli made his much-anticipated debut for Mississippi after being cleared by the NCAA on Friday. He completed 7 of 10 passes for 109 yards and one interception and led the Rebels on both of their touchdown drives in overtime.
Like the rest of his teammates, he had a hard time explaining the collapse.
“Crazy stuff happens sometimes,” Masoli said. “I never expected us to be in overtime.”
Ole Miss is 6-6 all-time in overtime games. It was the school’s first loss to an FCS opponent.
The Ole Miss offense, which debuted eight new starters, scored on five of six first-half possessions, including four touchdowns. After that, Jacksonville State rolled.
The Gamecocks scored on their final six possessions, including touchdowns on the last five. The Ole Miss defense, which returned six starters, ranked in the top half of the Southeastern Conference in most major categories last season, but had no answer for the Gamecocks.
Ole Miss kicker Bryson Rose made a 35-yard field goal to extend the Rebels’ lead to 34-26 with 2:55 left in regulation, but Jacksonville State drove the field for a touchdown to pull within 34-32 with 18.9 seconds left. Marques Ivory threw a 2-yard pass to La’Ray Williams for the two-point conversion to tie the game at 34 and send it to overtime.
Middleton rushed for 67 yards and a touchdown. The Gamecocks had no turnovers.
Using a two-quarterback system with Blanchard and Ivory, the duo combined to complete 22 of 36 passes for 252 yards and four touchdowns.
Ole Miss’ Brandon Bolden rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Sophomore Nathan Stanley threw for 133 yards and three touchdowns.
Read more about this game in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.