"We're down 14-0, we'd turned the ball over twice, and you don't want to do that against the seventh-ranked team in the country," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "But these guys have such great character and it's gotten better each week. For their first bowl experience, I was really concerned. There is so much to do. But their preparation was really good. I'm so proud of our defense. I can't say enough about that. I'm really proud of our seniors. They really took ownership of the team."
Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach was gracious after the setback.
"They played in a fashion that we take a lot of pride in," Leach said of the Rebels. "They executed on both sides of the ball. It was a strange game on both teams' parts. Both teams were trying to accomplish the same things. Both ahad relatively simple game plans and set out to do very basic things. At key times Mississippi did a better job than we did. I thought they really did a good job responding. This is an incredibly high compliment to them.
"What they did was just doing their job over and over, play after play," Leach continued. "I felt in our case we had a series of overcorrections and we overreacted. They did a better job than we did staying composed at key times during the game when the momentum shifted. When you're playing somebody as good as they are and that played as well as they did, you just congratulate them."
After the Rebels fell behind 14-0, Ole Miss calmly and collectively went to work. Jevan Snead, who had thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown earlier, hit tight end Gerald Harris on an 8-yard pass play as Harris took the pass in and bulled over a defender for the score. Joshua Shene was good on the extra point. Still 1:49 remained in the first quarter after the eight-play, 78-yard drive that consumed 3:33.
The Rebels tied it early in the second quarter, a 10-play, 85-yard drive that lasted 3:34 and was capped by a Snead deep ball to Mike Wallace for 41 yards as the Rebel receiver hauled it in between two defenders and scored. Even a replay review didn't overturn it as the play stood. Shene was true on the point after, and 11:57 remained on the second-quarter clock.
Texas Tech answered to retake the lead, moving in 11 plays 75 yards in 4:13, the scoring play a short pass underneath for a 2-yard gain and a touchdown. The extra point by Matt Williams was good, and it was 21-14 Big 12 team with 7:44 to go in the first half.
But Ole Miss would take a 24-21 lead into the locker room thanks to a couple more scores. The first was yet another touchdown pass to Harris, a 21-yarder from Snead with 4:09 left. Shene was good and the score was tied 21-21.
On Tech's next possession, Cassius Vaughn intercepted a Harrell pass at the Ole Miss 42 and returned it 13 yards. In four plays the Rebels had to settle for a field goal, and Shene was good, this time from 27 yards. Only 1:08 remained on the clock, but more excitement was in store before intermission.
The Red Raiders started at their own 32 after the kickoff. On the seventh and last play of the half, Harrell ran 44 yards and appeared headed into the end zone. But Kendrick Lewis tackled the talented TTU QB at the 3-yard line, just short of his team taking the lead as time had expired.
The Rebels built on their 3-point advantage quickly in the third quarter. Harrell was intercepted on the first drive of the second half. If it wasn't a back-breaker, it signaled a continuance of the Rebels' strong play since being down early.
Receiver Michael Crabtree fell down, and Marshay Green was right there to pick it off and return it 65 yards for a touchdown. Shene connected and it was 31-21 UM with 12:12 to go in the third. The Rebels would only continue to build on that lead.
It looked like they might do it quickly. After the Ole Miss defense held the Raiders three and out, Jonathan LaCour punted and Green responded again, this time hauling in the punt and racing 54 yards into the end zone. But a review showed he was out of bounds at the 9-yard line. The Rebs couldn't get it into the end zone, and Shene missed a 30-yarder.
Later in the third, the Rebel defense held on a fourth and four at the Tech 40. Harrell sneaked it for three yards, and the Rebels took over. In three plays they had added another touchdown. Brandon Bolden rushed up the middle for 17 yards and a score. Shene was good, and with 6:55 left in the third period, Ole Miss was up 38-21.
Nobody would know it at the time, but that would be enough. Certainly not with the Raiders' high-powered offense was anybody feeling secure on the Rebel side of things.
The fourth quarter began with the Rebels still up 17 points. The lead was reduced to 10 as Tech added points. Harrell, the fourth-place finisher for the Heisman Trophy this season, drove his team downfield in nine plays covering 83 yards. A crossing pattern from Harrell to Britton for 12 yards and a Williams extra point made it 38-28 with 12:13 left.
The Rebels rolled right back downfield and appeared poised to possibly put the game away. But at the end of a drive that began at the UM 20, a fumble by Enrique Davis at the TTU 2-yard line was recovered by Tech's Daniel Charbonnet.
But on the very first play, a swarming Rebel defense, led by Patrick Trahan, forced Harrell to fumble in the end zone. The Raiders recovered but the safety gave Ole Miss a 40-28 lead and the ball back.
The kickoff from the 20 went to Mike Wallace who returned it 35 yards to the TT 48. In nine plays Ole Miss scored again, this time a 4-yard rush for Dexter McCluster with 4:34 left. Shene was good, and Ole Miss was up 47-28.
Tech added a touchdown late, a pass from Harrell to Eric Morris for 17 yards. The Red Raiders' two-point try failed.
The Rebels outgained the Red Raiders 515 yards to 469. In the passing department, Ole Mishad 292 yards to 364 for Texas Tech. But on the ground the Rebs won the battle 223 to 105.
Snead was 18 of 29 for 292 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. Harrell was 36 of 58 for 364 yards and four touchdown and two interceptions.
Bolden led the Rebel rushers with 101 yards and a touchdown, while McCluster had 97 yards and a score.
McCluster, named the offensive player of the game, was also the leading UM receiver with six receptions for 83 yards.
Lewis led all Rebel tacklers with seven, including five solos, followed by Marcus Temple with six (four solos). Green was named the defensive player of the game.
Ole Miss finished 9-4, its most wins in five years when the Rebels beat Oklahoma State here for another Cotton Bowl crown. That season Ole Miss was 10-3.
Ole Miss is 3-1 in Cotton Bowl appearances.
Texas Tech finished the season 11-2. The Red Raiders are 0-4 in Cotton Bowl games.
Cotton Bowl Champs!
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