OXFORD — Ole Miss’s short, chaotic week of football looked set to end in pure embarrassment for the rebels. Instead, it ended with a vicious punch to the stomach.
The Rebels suffered a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State on Thursday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, with the outcome of the game decided by a failed two-point conversion attempt with 1:25 left on the end of an Ole Miss touchdown from 99 yards. made possible by Will Rogers’ goal-line fumble.
The result gave coach Lane Kiffin his first Egg Bowl loss in three attempts. It ended Ole Miss’s dream of stringing together two 10-win seasons for the first time since 1959-60. And, perhaps most importantly in a bitter rivalry like this, it sent home fans wearing Mississippi State colors (8-4, 4-4) with 12-month bragging rights.
In his first five drives of the second half, Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4 SEC) managed just 27 yards. Those drives resulted in three punts, a turnover on walks and a fumble. His last drive resulted in six points, but the Rebels needed eight.
After taking a one-point lead with 13:46 left on a field goal, the Bulldogs struck what proved to be the clinching blow as the Ole Miss secondary lost Rara Thomas hurtling down the left sideline. He caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Will Rogers that put the Bulldogs up eight points—too tall a hill for the struggling Ole Miss offense to climb, despite Jaxson Dart’s late TD pass to Dayton Wade .
The Rebels miss out on an opportunity in the third quarter to extend the lead
Tavius Robinson was a force in Rogers’ face all night.
Midway through the third quarter, he made one of his most impactful plays, sacking Rogers and forcing the Rebels’ Cedric Johnson to jump out. The Rebels took over at the Bulldogs 36-yard line, up 16-14 and with a chance to give their defense an edge.
Ole Miss drove the ball to the MSU 6-yard line and stalled—another example of a redzone offense failing Ole Miss as of late.
Needing two yards on fourth down, Kiffin decided to go for it. His bet failed and the Rebels gave the ball back to the Bulldogs. Mississippi State promptly marched 78 yards to kick a field goal with 13:46 remaining which gave them their first lead since 12:04 of the second quarter.
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The turnover sequence brings Ole Miss within two points, but the Bulldogs fight back
Rogers went to the Egg Bowl with five interceptions on the year and just two in his last eight games.
The Rebels forced a big goal on him midway through the second quarter, when Otis Reese got his hands on a pass up center. That gave the Rebels the ball at their own 36-yard line, a big game win after starting their previous two drives inside their own 15.
Ole Miss then embarked on a 13-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a fourth-and-goal pass from Dart to defensive tackle JJ Pegues.
It looked like Ole Miss would get in the middle on two scores, but the Bulldogs responded, driving 75 yards in 1:47 to set up a 19-yard touchdown reception by Lideatrick Griffin with eight seconds left in the half.
Rebels forced to settle for field goals early
The busiest rebel for a third of Thursday night’s contest may have been kicker Jonathan Cruz.
Suffering from the same red zone issues that plagued them last weekend against Arkansas, Ole Miss struggled to convert its starting total yardage lead into points.
On two of the first three drives, the Rebels ventured into the Mississippi State red zone and failed to hit it, calling on Cruz to kick short goals.
On their fourth drive of the game, Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo dropped what likely would have been a touchdown pass into center field. The drive stalled and Ole Miss brought Cruz back onto the field. Lui delivered from 49 yards out to give the Rebels a 9-7 lead going into the second frame.
With the regular season at an end, Ole Miss will find out its bowl future on Sunday, Dec. 4.
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Ole Miss football, Lane Kiffin fall to Mississippi State in Egg Bowl