Cloud Nine

We talked to Andrew Ritter again Monday. He was still the story, or at least the clinching storyline, from Saturday night's Ole Miss win against LSU.

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For any number of reasons, improbable might be a good word to use when describing the Rebels' latest victory in that series, it's 40th over LSU. You know the reasons, the injuries, their ranking, on and on.

"Surreal," said Ritter Monday. "I keep waiting to wake up from a dream."

The Rebels won't admit it, because they can't. But they have to be happy the eye-opening, gut-wrenching portion of the schedule is over. Idaho is a multi-touchdown underdog coming in for Homecoming. The Vandals are 1-6. Then there's an open date.

Think about it. Could there be many, or any, teams that have played this schedule, been this injured, and still had a decent chance to win every game – except maybe one?

You never know how a team's record will get to be what it is. At 4-3, some would have had it unfolding as it has. Others, probably most, would have missed it. Like putting Auburn in the W column and LSU on the L side. Or maybe Texas as a loss and LSU a win.

Because the schedule was so wacky, everybody seemed to have a different take. 5-2? 6-1? 4-3? 3-4? 2-5? 1-6?

It's that way every summer of every year. But not like this year.

The joy of the victory was still apparent Monday. There was also talk about how after the win at Vanderbilt they didn't feel they were quite as focused on Southeast Missouri as they could have been. They'll work toward Idaho with more of a sense of getting things done right. And with some hopeful healing the next two weeks.

As for Ritter, he said he's heard from a lot of people since Saturday night and enjoyed it all.

"It's been unbelievable," said the Jackson native and lifelong Ole Miss fan from a family of Rebels for generations. "It's been a lot of love shown to me and my family and all our team. It's just been incredible and a huge blessing."

If you saw it then or have watched it since, you'll understand why Ritter said he was at a momentary loss as to what to do when the winning kick went through, even though he'd thought about it for years.

"I didn't know what to do," he said. "You always think about what you're going to do when you ‘kick that kick.' So I just took off running."

And shortly thereafter felt many emotions.

"A sigh of relief. The ultimate high I've ever experienced in my athletic career. Just to know I came through for my team and these fans was the best feeling in the world. Because I knew they were counting on me, and it was my job to do. They had done their job to put us in position to win it, and I had to come through for those guys, all those guys I love. It was awesome."

Ritter sat out last season, a well-documented chance head coach Hugh Freeze took that it was the thing to do for the team as far as both Ritter and punter Tyler Campbell were concerned. Both veteran Rebels sitting out that fourth year, awaiting a fifth season to help the team while Jim Broadway punted and Bryson Rose kicked.

The Moment
File Photo

Rose made a game-winner against Arkansas for the Rebels last season. Ritter got his chance to do that against LSU.

All things considered through 13 games last year, it worked out. And this year through seven, same thing. Plan is working.

Ritter had made seven field goals in a row before having one blocked in the fourth quarter against the Tigers that would have given his team a 27-17 lead. As it turned out, the miss led to the drama that unfolded in the final seconds. LSU went down and scored to tie it 24-24. The Ole Miss offense then got Ritter into position for the game-winning points.

"I've been confident. I've been having good weeks of practice. But I'm not overconfident. I go out there and I'm always nervous. Doesn't matter if it's an extra point or a field goal. But I think that's good because it makes me focus on the task, focus on the fundamentals. So I've been fortunate to be pretty consistent.

"But having one blocked, that means I'm not consistent enough. I have to be better. I'm glad I was able to have another opportunity to make up for that."

So does having made the game-winner against LSU give Ritter even more confidence as the season moves ahead?

"If I had missed it, it would have hurt me confidence-wise big-time," he said. "That would have been something that would have been hard to get over."

Instead, it's been a time of congratulatory calls and texts, bear hugs and high-fives, pats on the back and smiles a mile wide.

"I keep pinching myself, thinking I'll wake up from a dream," Ritter said. "It's been unbelievable."

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