Rebs dump Gamecocks, 31-28

Ole Miss jumped to an early lead, fell behind in the second half, then rallied with a late touchdown for a huge SEC win over the 25th-ranked Gamecocks. Using a three quarterback system, the Rebs befuddled the Cocks early, gained some needed confidence and took care of business when it counted at the end when Ethan Flatt connected with Bill Flowers for the game-winning score.

COLUMBIA, SC - Ole Miss hadn't done much this year to anticipate anything out of the ordinary when they flew here to take on the 25th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks, but there was nothing "ordinary" about the Rebels' come-from-behind 31-28 victory before 79,100 dumbfounded fans.

"We came here to win," said senior Linebacker Rob Robertson. "We came here to turn our season around. We have not played to our potential and we knew that. Nobody else thought we could come up here and beat one of the hottest teams in America, but we had faith and we got it done."

It didn't come easy, however. After the two teams battled for three quarters, and nearly 13 minutes of the fourth, Ole Miss took over on their 27 with QB Ethan Flatt, shaken up on a QB sack by Carolina two poessessions prior, under center and facing a 28-24 deficit.

On the first play from scrimmage, Flatt, still a little wobbly but willing, found WR Kerry Johnson for 23 yards over the middle to the 50 and you could cut the tension with a knife. A short completion to FB Rick Razzano was followed by a 21-yard Flatt-to-Taye Biddle aerial to the Gamecock 29 with 1:26 remaining in the game.

Three excruciating incompletions left the Rebs staring at a fourth-and-10 at the USC 29 with 1:19 to go. Flatt hung in the pocket, the protection was there and he floated the ball toward the corner of the end zone to a streaking Bill Flowers. Flowers hauled in the game-winner, barely in bounds, for the go-ahead score with 1:05 to go in the contest.

"I know it's easy to say after the fact, but there was never any doubt in my mind," said RT Marcus Johnson. "I knew Ethan could make it happen if we all took care of our assignments up front and gave him time. And Bill is my boy. We have some great receivers, but if we have to have a catch, Bill is one we want on the receiving end. If it was there, he was going to catch it."

"I knew if Ethan threw it to me it was going to be a touchdown. I knew if he threw it out there I was going to go get it," said Flowers, who saw his first action in two weeks after suffering a lacerated kidney against Vanderbilt. "I had a lot of peace out there today. I left my health in the Lord's hands and just played football."

The Rebel defense still had to seal the deal and there were some anxious moments in the process. USC got the ball all the way to the Rebel 36 with two shots at the end zone. The first was knocked down by WS Charles Clark and the fourth down aerial to the corner of the end zone was batted away by CB Travis Johnson. Both had given up big plays on the day, but got some sweet redemption at the end.

"This was a game we had to have. We challenged each other before the game and were ready to play," said LG Doug Buckles. "I think it helped that we got off to a good start. South Carolina decided to play us straight up in the first half. They made our jobs easy. By the time they went back to slanting and stunting, we were already in a rhythm. They tightened up in the second half, but we basically stopped ourselves. We were determined today because this was essentially a make or break game for us."

The Rebs led 21-14 at the intermission, but gave up a 92-yard drive, basically on two long pass plays, on their second possession of the third quarter and the game was on at 21-21.

Ole Miss responded with a short Jonathan Nichols field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to take a 24-21 advantage, but South Carolina, with the help of a 54-yard pass completion, roared right back for a 28-24 lead. The crowd was rocking and the Rebel offense had two unsuccessful possessions that ate a lot of clock.

Fortunately, the Rebel defense dug in and gave the offense one final shot.

"We had come too far today to let this one get away from us," said LB Patrick Willis, who had a sack on USC's last possession and was the leading Rebel tackler with eight stops, three for losses. "We knew if we gave the offense one more shot at it that we were going to win. We never doubted today. We've had some doubts in previous games because things weren't going our way, but the way we started today we just got the early momentum and never let it get completely away. We had a gut check late in the game, trailing with not much time left, but we never got down."

The Rebels began the contest with some tricks up their sleeves by using all three quarterbacks - Ethan Flatt, Micheal Spurlock and Robert Lane - on the first series. Even though the Rebels didn't get a first down out of the ploy, it seemed to energize the entire team.

"I think playing three quarterbacks gave us an early spark. It showed everyone on the team we were going to do whatever we had to do to win the game," said Lane. "All three of us have strengths and all three of us contributed in this win. It feels great. I feel at home on the football field. I hope I get more opportunities, but as long as we are winning, that's all that matters."

The defense responded with a QB sack and forced a punt that put the Rebs back in business at their 30. Mixing the run and throw effectively, the Rebs moved down the field for their first score. Ole Miss' offense never faced a third down on the 70-yard march, that included a nifty 13-yard run after a high snap by Lane to the USC 5. TB Brandon Jacobs finished things off from the 2 and the Rebs led 7-0 at 9:11 of the first stanza after PK Jonathan Nichols' successful PAT.

The Rebs and Gamecocks swapped punts on the next possessions, but Ole Miss got the best of it as a Cody Ridgeway punt left SC at their own 7 to start their possession. SC completed a pass, but CB Travis Johnson knocked the ball out of the receiver's grasp and FS Eric Oliver scooped it up and ran it back to the original line of scrimmage. After an illegal receiver penalty against Ole Miss, Flatt hit WR Mario Hill to the five and then Lane bulled his way in for his first collegiate score around right end. 14-0 at 4:06 of the first quarter.

Another nice Reb drive utilizing the various skills of Flatt, Spurlock and Lane got the ball to the Cocks' 34, but a Nichols FG attempt from 51 yards was just short. Despite not getting points, it was apparent the front line of Bobby Harris, Doug Buckles, Chris Spencer, Marcus Johnson and Tre' Stallings were controlling the line of scrimmage and the whole team was pumped about the way things were clicking.

Master craftsman Lou Holtz was not happy with the way his offense was going so he inserted freshman QB Blake Mitchell, who promptly drove the home team 67 yards in five plays via the air to cut the score to 14-7. The TD was a bootleg right on a Rebel safety blitz from the opposite side. The unsuccessful blitz eventually allowed the tight ende to wriggle free in the middle and Mitchell hit him for the score from 18 yards out.

Spurlock led the next Rebel march with TB Vashon Pearson doing the most damage, including the final 17 yards around right end for the score. A Spurlock sneak on fourth and inches kept the drive going and the Rebs tallied on the next play from scrimmage. Nichols' kick made it 21-7 with 7:24 remaining in the half.

The Gamecocks put starting QB Syvelle Newton back in the game on their next offensive try and he responded with a 42-yard run up the gut for a TD to cut the score to 21-14.

Then the game got a little wild. The Rebs drove all the way to the USC 30 and appeared to have scored on a pass from Flatt to Kerry Johnson, but it was called back on a hold by RT Marcus Johnson, who was moved outside for Tre' Stallings, who was out of the game with a bum ankle. On the next play, Flatt found Taye Biddle over the middle, but he fumbled on the USC 13 and it was scooped up and returned to the USC 44. The Gamecocks moved the ball all the way to the Rebel seven, but on the last play of the half a pass in the end zone was ruled incomplete.

Ole Miss ended with 23 first downs and 414 total yards against the SEC's number three defense - number one in rush defense. USC had been giving up a little over 7 points a game, but allowed 31 to the Rebs. Ole Miss gained 178 yards on the ground with TB Vashon Pearson getting 96 of them.

"They said they were going to keep me from getting 100 yards," said pearson, who had three-straight 100-yard games heading into the battle. "I guess they did, but I'll take 96 yards and the win any time. We've got five guys up front who can get it done against anybody. We weren't going to change for them or for anyone. We know we can run the football, it's just a matter of doing it and executing. Today we executed better than we have all year."

South Carolina also gained a bunch of yards - 491 to be exact - but they were just 4-15 in third-down conversions and rushed for just 142 yards.

"I thought we contained their running game very well," said Defensive Coordinator Chuck Driesbach, "but we continue to be victimized by long pass plays. All I'm thankful for, though, is that we played the last two like All-Pros. My hat is off to Travis and Charles for continuing to battle all the way to the final snap. I see a lot of hope with these guys. This was not a masterpiece, but it was very saltisfying."

The three QBs? Flatt was 18-27 with no interceptions, good for 214 yards and the game-winning score. Spurlock was 2-5 for 22 yardsd, directed one scoring drive and rushed for 34 yards. Lane didn't complete a pass in two attempts, but he scored a TD and had another 13-yard run.

"I'm very proud of all three of them," said OC John Latina. "We had talked about this as a staff Wednesday. All three had practiced well. We wanted to shake things up so we put some plays in for each of them that played to their strengths. I thought it worked very well."

Indeed. The Rebs are now 3-3 on the year, but 2-1 in the SEC. South Carolina fell to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in league play.

"This is what we needed more than anything," said an elated David Cutcliffe, whose team was a 16 1/2 point underdog by oddsmakers. "We've struggled this year. We've struggled to find an identity and to push the right buttons. Today things finally came together for us. Now I think we are going to pose problems for anyone we face. This was a quality opponent and we beat them in their yard. This is a big win, a shot in the arm we desperately needeed."

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