Winning Hands

You might not guess what Cory Peterson did after he caught the game-winning two-point conversion pass from Stewart Patridge in Starkville to reclaim the Golden Egg for Ole Miss in 1997.

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The Rebels' sophomore wide receiver celebrated for a moment, then headed to the visitor sideline of Scott Field.

"And I threw up," Peterson said, laughing as he told it some 16 years later. "You can actually see that on one of the highlights. I was throwing up my guts. It was everything. Emotions. Excitement. Worn out. It just all came out."

It's likely he was joined in an act of regurgitation by Mississippi State fans everywhere. The 15-14 Ole Miss victory was as dramatic a finish as there'd ever been in a Battle for the Golden Egg. And it's still talked about every time this game is played, especially when it's played at MSU.

Peterson's two-point catch will forever be recognized as one of the rivalries greatest moments, at least as far as Ole Miss is concerned. But he said don't forget about another teammate who was key to the whole thing turning out as it did.

"Andre Rone," Peterson said of his fellow wide receiver. "He not only caught the first touchdown earlier and then caught the second touchdown, but on that (game-winning) drive, he had a huge catch on third and long. Like maybe over 15 or 20 yards."

Peterson was close on what he remembered. Just a down and a few yards off. It was actually second and 23, and a 30-yard gain on a Patridge to Rone play had Ole Miss in Bulldog territory at the 35.

After completions to tight end Rufus French and Peterson put the Rebels at the 10, Patridge hit Rone across the middle of the end zone to cut the MSU lead to 14-13 with 25 seconds left.

Ole Miss head coach Tommy Tuberville, already 1-1 against State with a win in Starkville and a loss in Oxford, said initially he thought "go for it."

"I changed my mind twice," he said then. "But I eventually went with my first instinct, and that was to go for two. I saw the look in the offensive line's eyes, and I couldn't deny them the chance."

Peterson was glad his coach decided not to kick the game into potential overtime.

"It was a long game. We were drained," he said. "We all looked at each other in the huddle when Tub asked us if we could do it. And we said, ‘Yeah, let's go for it.' (Offensive coordinator) Noel Mazzone called the Z-Drive play. They were bringing the blitz and were coming after Stewart. His pass was about two inches from being blocked by the defensive end.

"I just thank my lucky stars I was able to hold onto it. The guy covering me was all over me. He had good coverage on me, but Stewart threw a bullet. I was on the right side and cut across the middle. I just got across the goal line and it was there. The rest is history."

There were some offensive stars on that team.

"John Avery, a first-round pick, and Deuce McAllister, who was a freshman. And guys like Eli Anding," Peterson said, rolling off some of the names.

And a couple of current Ole Miss assistant coaches were also on that squad – offensive line coach Matt Luke and wide receivers coach Grant Heard. Luke, playing center, had strained a MCL in his knee in the second quarter but played the rest of the game.

Cory Peterson and the two-point catch to beat State in '97
Ole Miss Athletics

And what about the Ole Miss defense that day?

"State had a great running back," Peterson said of J.J. Johnson. "The leadership on defense with guys like Nate Wayne, Walker Jones, Broc Kreitz. Our defense just stepped up and kept us in the game."

Ole Miss tried to close a 14-7 gap with a Steve Lindsey field goal with 5:52 remaining, but it was blocked. The Rebel defense had one last stand in them, and they made it count.

MSU tried a 52-yard field goal, but Brian Hazlewood's attempt was no good. There was 2:12 to go in the contest.

Ole Miss was at its own 35-yard line. Patridge and company went to work for the victory.

After the Rebels took the lead by a point, MSU actually moved to midfield, thanks in part to a "too many men on the field" penalty for the Rebel defenders.

But MSU quarterback Matt Wyatt threw deep, and the pass was picked off by Tim Strickland with three seconds left. Patridge took a knee at his own 24, and that was that.

"My boy Tim Strickland, another Memphis area kid, picks it off, and we're headed to the Motor City Bowl," Peterson said.

The Rebels were 7-4 and would go on to defeat Marshall 34-31 in the bowl game in Pontiac, Mich. MSU was also 7-4 but was left out of the bowl scene completely. That's part of what the loss cost the Bulldogs.

Peterson would have other dramatic and memorable catches in his collegiate career. The next year he caught a pass in overtime to beat LSU in Oxford. Two years later he would be on the receiving end of a pass in overtime that would beat his old coaches who had left for Auburn.

Peterson said the catch at State and the catch at Auburn are tops in his book.

"The Auburn game, to see all those coaches who had essentially raised us, then to get a win like that for the fans, you can put those as ‘I-A' and ‘I-B' as my favorites. They're both right up there together."

And both forever etched into Ole Miss lore as another Egg Bowl is at hand.

"With Coach (Hugh) Freeze talking about this game, and with Matt and Grant talking about the games like the Egg Bowl of '97, these kids on the team are going to know what this game means," Peterson said. "How it's their legacy going forward, and how important it is to get a win for this program."

And for former players who are now alums of both the football program and the school.

"Years later as a fan, like those three years we lost to them and were down, it hurt," Peterson said. "It was tough to come out of my house. It's hard. I get it. Maybe because life moves so fast when you're a player, I didn't completely get it. You're playing in the games and in the stadiums. As a fan, I get it completely now. It's always important to get a ‘W' in this one."

Even if it's not as dramatic as the finish that memorable day back in 1997.

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