OXFORD – Kelly Powell never saw one of the most famous plays in Ole Miss football history.
As the Rebels’ quarterback during that Thanksgiving week of 1983, he was on the bench with a towel draped over his head pondering an earlier play that made it necessary.
“A lot of people don’t realize this, but the reason Mississippi State had an opportunity to kick that field goal was because I fumbled the snap, and they recovered it,” said Powell, who resides now with his family in Germantown, Tenn.
This season marks 30 years since Billy Brewer’s first Ole Miss team needed a sixth win to earn an Independence Bowl invitation and end a Rebels’ bowl drought of 12 seasons.
Ole Miss got that invitation after a 40 mile-an-hour wind gust prevented Artie Cosby’s accurate kick – a 27-yard attempt – from passing through the uprights, stunning the MSU kicker and his teammates as the Rebels held on for a 24-23 victory.
Stuff of legends
It’s a game that many Ole Miss fans have passed on to younger generations – just as Andrew Ritter’s parents have done for him.
Ritter is 14-for-19 on field goal attempts this season, one of them a 41-yarder to beat then-No. 6 LSU on the next-to-last play of the game.
“I’ve heard about that since I was a little kid,” said Ritter, who has on occasion faced the added challenge of bad weather when kicking. “Sometimes, but nothing as drastic as that field goal was.”
The 1983 Ole Miss-MSU game required a Rebels’ rally just for Ole Miss to have a chance. Ole Miss trailed 23-7 to start the fourth quarter and took advantage of three MSU turnovers in the final period.
The frantic comeback was almost wiped out as the Bulldogs moved to the Ole Miss 10 following Powell’s fumble.
Powell remembers an MSU strategy shift in the second half that helped Ole Miss.
“They did a lot of blitzing. We were successful on some of it, and some of it we were not. Once they got ahead 21-7 they kind of laid back, and they gave us the opportunity to make some strikes, score a couple of touchdowns and actually go ahead.”
Ritter was only 1-for-3 on field goal attempts against Missouri. A 23-yard attempt was blocked with pressure up the middle, and a 61-yard attempt fell far short.
He’s pleased to see that Thursday’s weather forecast calls for very little wind. It does call for cold with game-time temps possibly in the low 30s.
“In the cold the ball doesn’t jump like it does when it’s warm. It doesn’t have as much pop to it. Also, you can be standing around on the sidelines, and you tend to tighten up a lot quicker,” Ritter said. “In this weather I just have to stay moving, get on the bike, get in front of the heaters, just keep blood flowing.”
Confident already, Ritter was glad to have a game-winning kick go his way against LSU. He believes he can knock it through again if called upon this week but prefers to see the Rebels’ offense “rolling” and the outcome already settled.
That’s not the way it was for Powell, who has seen Cosby’s kick only on replays.
“When they kicked that ball I was not even looking. I was over on the sideline and had a towel over my head, because I had fumbled the snap. The next thing I know I hear our fans cheering. I knew he had missed it. I didn’t know the wind had blown the ball back, and I didn’t see that until I watched the video the next day.”