After defeating No. 14 Mississippi State in the 90th Egg Bowl game, head coach Matt Luke joined the Ole Miss faithful in the Hotty Toddy chant, and Starkville native A.J. Brown yelled “This is my city.”
Though the Egg Bowl is always more than “just a game,” it carried more weight than usual after an exasperating season for Ole Miss, and the win was greater than a victory on the scoreboard — it was a moment of healing and revenge for a hurting program.
Coming into the annual matchup, very few analysts thought the Rebels had a chance to top the Bulldogs. A rollercoaster of a season full of controversy and heartbreaking losses had presumably left the Rebels depleted and war-weary going into a game against a team that, on paper, was much more talented.
But as Luke has said all season, the Rebels got up off the mat and fought.
Additionally, this game was personal for the Ole Miss locker room and its fanbase. They have been on the receiving end of copious amounts of pain and controversy in 2017, which rivalries often magnify. Rivals like to kick each other when they’re down, and the Egg Bowl has certainly seen its share of that over the years.
This year was no exception, and Ole Miss had enough.
The Rebels dominated the Bulldogs and forced five turnovers on the night, including an interception from starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald before he left the game with an ankle injury. Though the Ole Miss offense was not as sharp as in past performances, Jordan Wilkins and A.J. Brown both accumulated more than 100 yards in rushing and receiving, respectively, and the performance was more than enough to put the Bulldogs down in the second half.
Many onlookers believe the Egg Bowl rivalry has gotten too heated, which may be true. But the vitriol made the victory even sweeter for Ole Miss.
Sure, the Rebels may not be able to go to a bowl game in 2017, but they reached six wins on the season, which is one more than last year’s total. To reach that mark against an in-state rival is monumental, and regardless of what is ahead, this win cannot go away.
Now, the Egg Bowl is just one game, and Ole Miss had visible problems this season, indicative of a young team in a coaching upheaval. But this Egg Bowl was more than a game to close out the Rebels’ season. Ole Miss still doesn’t know who will be its next head coach or what the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions will hand down in the form of additional penalties, but that didn’t matter on Thanksgiving.
It was a win for the football player from Starkville who chose to attend Ole Miss over Mississippi State, for the Oxford High School graduate who grew up living the rivalry, for an interim head coach who has been an Ole Miss Rebel his entire life and for a wounded fanbase and student body who needed a reason to smile.
Forget the coaching search.
Forget the NCAA.
Ole Miss won a game that avenged a lot of pain that has come over the last calendar year, and it felt good.