OXFORD, Miss. - For the first time since 2009, the Ole Miss Rebels will go bowling.
Paced by a three-touchdown performance from sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) defeated its intrastate rival, No. 24 Mississippi State, 41-24 on a beautiful Saturday night in front of 61,005 fans at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"I cannot be more proud of this group of young men and coaches," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I'm first and foremost happy and thrilled for them, and then secondly for our fans, administration and the people of the Rebel Nation who had to go through losing the momentum in this series. I understand that was difficult. I've lived it, I've been through it, and I know how important it is to this state and to our University, and our kids were very aware of that tonight."
For Ole Miss, Saturday's win is extra special. Over the last two seasons, the Rebels had won just six games combined. Saturday's win over Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 SEC) gave the Rebels their sixth win this season, and propels the young team to a bowl game to be determined in the coming weeks. The win also gives the Rebels the Egg Bowl trophy for the first time since 2008.
"We didn't play out of hatred for anyone," Freeze said. "It was more about playing out of love for one another and this University, and our kids proved that they thought about one another and that they care for one another tonight."
Perhaps most importantly, Saturday gave the Rebels a sense of validation for their hard work this season. After losing its last two games by a combined seven points, some had to wonder if it simply wasn't meant to be for the Rebels.
"It was a great game," freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said. "We played our hearts out and we have been upset so many times this year. Those losses were heartbreaking and I feel honored to get this one. It's just a great feeling."
Moncrief finished the day with seven catches for a career-high 173 yards to go along with his three touchdown receptions. Moncrief's 173 yards receiving are the fourth-most in a single game in Ole Miss history, and the Raleigh, Miss., native is now tied for the most touchdown receptions in a single season with 10.
Sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace finished 15-of-22 for 294 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Junior running back Jeff Scott led Ole Miss on the ground with 28 carries for 111 yards.
Junior cornerback Charles Sawyer led Ole Miss with nine total tackles, including eight solo tackles and three pass breakups. Sophomore defensive end C.J. Johnson had a pair of sacks for the Rebels, and Nkemdiche had three total tackles and an interception, his third of the season.
In a game that started off tight and was back and forth for much of the first half, it was all Ole Miss in the second half. Tied 17-17 at halftime, Ole Miss scored 24 unanswered points before allowing a Bulldog touchdown with seven seconds left on the clock.
The 109th meeting between the two schools, and the 85th edition of the Battle of the Golden Egg, began with some fireworks, as each team put seven points on the board in the opening two minutes. The Rebels used a four-play, 71-yard drive to get on the board, capped off by a 25-yard pass from Wallace to Jamal Mosley down the left sideline.
Ole Miss scored on each of its first four possessions to open the second half, including two touchdowns from Moncrief, a 21-yard reception with 6:47 left on the clock in the third quarter, and a 16-yard reception just over three minutes later to give Ole Miss a 34-17 lead.
"We're going to have some fun times together," Freeze said. "Those kids have had some difficult times, and now they can hear the good side of it, so I'm thrilled. To send them out to a bowl game somewhere will be really nice."
Ole Miss will now wait to hear its bowl fate. The Rebels are believed to be contenders for the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, AutoZone Liberty Bowl and BBVA Compass Bowl.
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