The better team won.
If any fan tries to decipher exactly what happened on the second day of January, good luck. But one thing remains clear in my mind: the better team won.
No matter how you slice it, this game was one for the ages. In front of a record-setting crowd of 88,175 screaming fans, two offenses that featured numerous weapons showed out. The two combined for a ridiculous 984 yards of total offense – the second most in Cotton Bowl history – and the 81 total points set a new Classic record that sat since 1985.
Fourteen- count ‘em – fourteen records were set or tied during the final Cotton Bowl Classic in the original Fair Park, including three defensive scores (two interception TD returns and a safety) which, again, are the most in its history.
The Rebel offense scored its most points ever in a bowl and tied for most touchdowns. They also posted its second-most total yards in a bowl game with 515. Sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead's three first half passing touchdowns tied for yet another Classic record.
It featured big plays and rollercoaster-like momentum swings. Texas Tech jumped out to a 14-0 lead early, but Ole Miss outscored the Red Raiders 38-7, aided by an interception returned for a touchdown by junior cornerback Marshay Green.
When it came down to it, the landsharks shut the door. Following an Enrique Davis fumble on the Tech two, junior Patrick Trahan met All-American Graham Harrell for a sack and safety.
These boys weren't going to let their first bowl game in five years slip away that easily.
"I'm proud of these guys," said head coach Houston Nutt. "They have tremendous character. We did the thing we talked about not doing, which was fall behind early. We're down 14-0 and turned the ball over twice.
"Texas Tech isn't the team you want to turn the ball over to, not with a fastbreak football team. You can see why they're the seventh ranked team in the country. They're spectacular. But these guys have had such great character and have gotten better each and every week."
Let's reflect on that improvement for a moment.
Not since 2003 have we seen such a winning streak as the one that concluded today. But the difference between that fateful streak and 2008, however, is the quality of opponent they beat to achieve it.
Ninety-one percent of America picked the Rebels to lose. With a high powered offense led by Heisman-snubbed gunslinger Graham Harrell and Biletnikoff winner Michael Crabtree, Ole Miss was "supposed" to lose and lose handily. Outsiders wrote this team off and left them for dead.
But instead of letting all the negativity get to them, this team responded. A fire of epic proportions was lit and no one can doubt them now.
"Ole Miss played in a fashion that we take a lot of pride in," said Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach. "I thought they executed incredibly well on both sides of the ball. They did a great job of doing their job and doing it over and over and over, play after play, after play. They did a better job than we did of staying composed at key times of the game and momentum shifted."
What this win will mean for the future is yet to be seen, but to say it was a program-changer would still be a massive understatement.
Who would have thought that after four years of obscurity, Ole Miss would be in the position it's in today? I know I wouldn't.
But now the Rebels have finished the year with a 9-4 record and concludes its best season since posting a 10-3 mark in 2003. Nutt notches his seventh season with nine or more wins in his 16 season as a head coach.
And better than all of it, Ole Miss football is back in the national picture where it belongs. No one remembers a loser, but any fan of college football can recall an upset when they see one.
But I'm not that kind of fan. As time passes and this game goes down in the history books, I'll look back with a satisfying smile unlike any other. Let other media members argue that this was a David versus Goliath affair.
I know the better team won.
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