Rebels open with 28-25 win over Memphis

Ole Miss and Memphis got together Sunday to open the 2006 season, and as has been the case lately when the two get together, the game was competitive and close. But when it came down to making things happen late, it was the Rebels who were able to prevail 28-25.

"I'm very happy with the win," said second-year Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron. "I'm proud of the kids. The offense and special teams won the game for us. I give a lot of credit to (offensive coordinator) Dan Werner and his staff.

"Defensively we were poor. We didn't maintain gap control in the second half. We're banged up on the defensive line, but that's not an excuse. Overall, we're happy to win the game."

The Tigers got on the scoreboard first with a touchdown on their first possession. Along with placekicker Trey Adams' point after, those were the only points of the first quarter for either team.

On the 10th play of a 59-yard drive which began after the Rebels' failed to convert on fourth and 1 from the Memphis 41-yard line, Tiger quarterback Martin Hankins handed off to wingback Dave Thomas who threw a pass to receiver Carlos Singleton for six points. There was 6:59 remaining in the opening period.

Ole Miss tied the game on the first play of the second quarter with a trick play - a fumble-rooskie - that caught the Tigers off guard. Dexter McCluster lined up next to quarterback Brent Schaeffer, who took the sanp and handed to McCluster. The rest of the Rebels went right, and McCluster, craddling the football, sneaked to his left on a 31-yard scamper to the far corner for a touchdown. Freshman placekicker Joshua Shene was good on his first collegiate kick, and with seven seconds gone in the second, things were knotted at seven points apiece.

After the Tigers failed to move it past midfield and punted, Ole Miss started a scoring drive for the lead at its own 17-yard line. A 31-yard BenJarvus Green-Ellis run got the Rebs to the 8 of Memphis on the drive's eighth play. Two snaps later, it was Green-Ellis taking it in from the 1-yard line. Shene made the extra point, and Ole Miss led 14-7 with 6:10 to go before halftime.

The Tigers would tie it before intermission. Starting at their own 20, the final snap of a six-play effort proved to be the big one, a Hankins pass to a wide-open Ryan Scott who raced the remainder of the 49 yards to the end zone. Adams connected and the score was 14-14 with 4:29 to go in the second quarter.

After Memphis failed to produce on its first possession of the second half, the Rebs moved in for more points. Once again it was Green-Ellis taking it in from the 1-yard line, capping a 51-yard drive that was set up with a 37-yard punt return by Marshay Green from his own 12 to his own 49. Green took the ball in, ran left, turned back right, moved to the left again and reversed his field to the right for the big return to set things up.

Schaeffer to McCluster for a 17-yard gain to the Memphis 16 got the Rebs into scoring position. Green-Ellis carried three times for 12 net yards to the 4, before Schaeffer was incomplete to Robert Lane. The Rebels' QB then rushed for 3-yards; then Green-Ellis took it in. Shene converted for a 21-14 Ole Miss lead at the 5:40 mark of the third.

The Tigers moved deep into Rebel territory early in the fourth, but on third and 3, Patrick Willis, Trumaine McBride, and Marcus Tillman combined to stop Duke Calhoun for a loss and force the Tigers to kick a field goal. Adams was good on a 30-yarder to cut the Rebel lead to 21-17 with 10:47 to go.

But Ole Miss came right back to stretch the lead to 11 points. A four-minute drive that covered 73 yards in 10 plays was capped by a Schaeffer run of eight yards for the score. Shene connected for a 28-17 Reb lead with 7:07 left in the contest.

But there was more in the Tigers' tank. Memphis took the football and drove from its own 33 for a touchdown in nine plays, the scoring play a Hankins pass from the 2 to Antonio McCoy. The Tigers went for two and Hankins completed a pass to Earnest Williams to make it 28-25 with Ole Miss maintaining a slim lead.

With two timeouts left, the Tigers decided to kick deep. Ole Miss got the ball at its 23 and after Memphis spent the two timeouts, Ole Miss converted a third and four with Schaeffer picking up six yards to his own 40. Two plays later the clock expired, and the Rebels were 1-0 in 2006.

A crowd of 55,549 watched as the Rebels racked up 240 yards on the ground, but allowed the Tigers 225 through the air. The numbers were somewhat reversed in the two columns as Ole Miss passed for just 97 yards, while the Tigers rushed for 149.

Total offense for the teams: Ole Miss 337, Memphis 374. In the first down department, the Rebs had 20; the Tigers 24.

Green-Ellis debuted as a Rebel in fine fashion. The former Indiana Hoosier gained 127 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns.

McCluster's first day as a Rebel was also impressive as he caught six passes for 86 yards and had five kickoff returns for 122 yards with a long of 39 yards.

Schaeffer took control of the game as the contest wore on. He was 7-for-16 passing for 97 yards on the day. On the ground he rushed 11 times for 48 yards and a touchdown.

But it was his poise and experience that seemed to take over for Schaeffer as he made some veteran decisions in the Rebels' last scoring drive and also when Ole Miss needed to run out the clock.

"He came in here a very mature, very hungry player," Orgeron said of Schaeffer. "I thought he made the big play when he had to. I'm very proud of him."

Memphis head coach Tommy West, whose Tigers have lost two straight years to Ole Miss, said his team didn't play well enough to win.

"I'm disappointed in us, but you just have to give (Ole Miss) credit," West said. "I thought overall we made too many mistakes to win the football game. The main difference in the game was their running game versus our running defense. We couldn't stop the run and they pretty much handed it to us in the fourth quarter."

Team captain Patrick Willis led the Rebels' defensive effort with 12 total tackles, including eight solos.

Ole Miss plays at Missouri, a 47-7 winner over Murray State in its season opener, Saturday at 11:30 a.m. on Fox Sports Net.

Memphis hosts Chattanooga Saturday at 7 p.m.

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