Rebs dominate State in 20-3 victory

The first play of the fourth quarter all but put the nail in the proverbial coffin at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium/Hollingsworth Field Saturday. Ole Miss drove 98 yards from its own 2-yard line in 16 plays for a touchdown on the first play of that final quarter en route to a 20-3 victory over arch-rival Mississippi State before 55,810 fans.

Redshirt freshman Robert Lane, not starting but going most of the way on this day, faked a handoff from the 2-yard line and ran left untouched to the corner of the end zone for the score. With Jonathan Nichols' point after, the Rebs led 17-3, and an inept Mississippi State offense would be hard pressed to score twice in some 14 minutes.

They didn't and Ole Miss Coach David Cutcliffe improved his record against the Bulldogs to 4-2.

"It's always good to get a win in a rival game," said Cutcliffe, whose sixth Ole Miss team finished 4-7, the first losing season of his UM coaching tenure. "This was a total victory. We won in all phases of the game. Our defense set the tone early in this one. We controlled the line of scrimmage today."

Indeed it did. The first half was total domination by Ole Miss, especially defensively. State had one first down to Ole Miss' 13 in the opening half. The Bulldogs had only 58 total yards of offense, all on the ground. Bulldog sophomore quarterback Omarr Conner was 0-for-6 passing in the first half.

Mississippi State tried to get something going in the rushing department but to no avail. Those 58 yards came on only 15 snaps.

Yet the Rebels only led 10-3 at the break. Sophomore tight end Lawrence Lilly caught a 4-yard pass at the goalline from Lane to cap a nearly perfect 15-play, 78-yard drive that took up more than six and a half minutes off the gameclock. It was Lane's first career collegiate touchdown pass. Nichols converted to make it 7-0 Rebels with 6:14 to go in the first quarter.

The Rebels didn't get points on their next scoring opportunity. Early in the second quarter Nichols missed on a 44-yard field goal attempt but got another opportunity when the Rebel defense held State on its next possession. Ole Miss moved from its own 45 to the Bulldog 21 before stalling. Nichols was good this time, a 39-yard effort to make it 10-0 UM with 8:19 to go in the second quarter.

After State failed to move it, the Rebs got the football back. But Lane was intercepted on second and 11 from his own 49, and Darren Williams returned it from his own 35 to the 44. In six plays the drive stalled and State's Keith Andrews was good on a 23-yard field goal with 1:58 to go before halftime.

Ole Miss continued to dominate the game in the third period but didn't get any points. But the drive that began when Ole Miss got the football at the 6:53 mark after a Bulldog punt by Jared Cook was downed at the 2-yard line sealed this one for UM. Sixteen plays later, Lane faked everybody out and scored.

"He (Lane) was the only one who knew he was going to keep the ball," Cutcliffe said of the third and goal play at the 2-yard line. "That makes for a little better fake."

Clearly it did in this instance. Lane said keeping the Golden Egg in Oxford for the third straight season was very important to Ole Miss.

"We played a very good game today," Lane said. "I thought we executed very well and managed to put together some lengthy drives which kept the Mississippi State offense off the field. We knew they had improved from earlier in the season. We had a great week of practice, and we were motivated to end this season on a winning note."

Later in the fourth period, the Rebels had another shot to add points after a Conner pass was intercepted by Travis Johnson at midfield and returned to the Bulldog 42. Six plays later on fourth and 3 from the 4-yard line, Nichols was good on a 22-yard field goal with 11 minutes left to end the day's scoring.

"Congratulations to David (Cutcliffe) and his team," said MSU Coach Sylvester Croom, 3-8 in his first season with the Bulldogs. "They played hard and definitely played well enough to win. They beat us up front. Bottom line, they had opportunities to make big plays and they made them. We didn't."

Sophomore quarterback Ethan Flatt, who started the game for Ole Miss, was 3-of-8 with one interception. Lane finished the day 10-of-17 with two interceptions and a touchdown.

Ole Miss totally dominated the statistics with 24 first downs to six for MSU, 283 rushing yards to 70, and 421 total yards to 220.

The Rebels had 62 rushing plays to State's 26. In total plays, Ole Miss had 88 to MSU's 54.

Ole Miss held Bulldog junior running back Jerious Norwood to 24 yards on 11 carries.

In Southeastern Conference play, Ole Miss finished 3-5 and in a 3-way tie with Alabama and Arkansas for third place, while MSU was last at 2-6.

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