There were about seven minutes to go in the game, and Texas A&M was looking at a third-and-19 on its own three-yard line. Ole Miss was ahead 27-17, and many of the 55,343 spectators in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium were feeling relieved. The Rebels (3-3, 0-2 SEC) were close to getting their first Southeastern Conference win of the year and ending a 15-game SEC losing streak.
Little did they know, the Rebel faithful were about to witness a young team still trying to learn how to win come up, literally, an inch short, as the Aggies (4-1, 2-1 SEC) pulled the win from right under Ole Miss 30-27.
“Obviously, I’m very disappointed,” head coach Hugh Freeze said in his post-game press conference. “The kids are hurting. The coaches are hurting. It’s a game we easily could have won. We’ve been looking at a lot of different things. We got into the fourth quarter with a very good football team. We had a chance to win it and put it away, but we didn’t get a few breaks and we didn’t make a few plays.
“We made some tough decisions, and I just hate that our kids are hurting so bad when we had a great chance to win the football game.”
In a game that was thought to be a shootout with two high-scoring offenses exchanging touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game, it came down to a few key plays that could’ve ultimately changed the outcome of the game.
It started when senior kicker Bryson Rose missed a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter that would’ve given the Rebels a 13-10 lead.
Then, with time winding down in the first half, it looked as though Ole Miss was going to carry momentum into the locker room. The Rebels had a 17-10 lead and looked to add at least a field goal before the half ended, but with 42 seconds left, Wallace dropped back and attempted a pass that saw the ball slip out of his hands and fall into the hands of senior linebacker Steven Jenkins, who returned the interception 37 yards for a touchdown, which tied the game 17-17 going into halftime.
“I was trying to hit my check down,” Wallace said. “And it slipped out of my hands and fell right into (his) hands.”
Rose added a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, Wallace found sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief on a slant on a critical third-down play to give the Rebels a 27-17 lead.
At the 8:35 mark in the fourth quarter, the Aggies started a drive at their own 12-yard line. Manziel was sacked by freshman defensive tackle Issac Gross at the Texas A&M goal line. Manziel was ruled down at the 1-yard line, but Freeze decided to challenge the spot in hopes of a safety.
After review, the officials upheld the ruling on the field, and that is when momeuntum started to swing in favor of Texas A&M.
A 2-yard run on second down set up the pivotal third-and-19 that ultimately changed the complexion of the game.
Manziel stepped back and hurled a pass down the sideline. Sophomore cornerback Senquez Golson was in position and looked to have an interception or pass breakup, but freshman wide receiver Mike Evans reached over Golson and reeled in the 32-yard pass to give the Aggies a critical first down.
After that, Texas A&M had a 36-yard run by junior running back Ben Malena and capped off the scoring drive with a 29-yard run by Manziel for a touchdown to cut the deficit to four.
Ole Miss got the ball back with 6:24 left to play, and the Rebels were looking to preserve the win. Junior running back Jeff Scott had five straight carries and the Rebels were forced into a fourth-and-inches situation from their own 39-yard line. Ole Miss elected to go for it and was unable to convert on a questionable play call from the shotgun, giving the ball to Texas A&M with three minutes left in the game.
“It looked like if they would have rolled the ball it would have touched the chain,” Freeze said. “I think that call should have been reviewed, but it is what it is. We could have made an inch and probably put it away, but we didn’t.
“We haven’t won an SEC game in however long it’s been, but I was just going for it. Period. Everybody can sit back and second guess, but I was giving our kids what I thought was the best chance to win the game. Obviously, I wish I would have called something different now, but we would go for it again.”
The Aggies capitalized on the opportunity when Manziel found senior wide receiver Ryan Swope from 20 yards out to give the Aggies a 30-27 lead.
Ole Miss got the ball back with 1:46 left and no timeouts from their own 31-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Wallace found Moncrief on a 32-yard pass that moved the ball to the Texas A&M 32-yard line. However on the next play, Wallace was intercepted by junior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr.
“I didn’t see the guy,” Wallace said. “I was thinking we can’t take a sack here and get out of field-goal range. I had a guy in my face and tried to throw it to my short guy, but I didn’t see him.”
Despite the loss, the Rebels received a great effort on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Ole Miss forced six turnovers — four fumbles and two interceptions. Coming into the game, Texas A&M only had one turnover all season. Sophomore safety Cody Prewitt had another big game with six tackles, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception.
“We really emphasized getting turnovers going into the game, and we did that,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “We stopped some drives doing that, but in the end, we weren’t able to do it. It’s disappointing. You figure with a 10-point lead at six minutes you’re going to win the game.”
Offensively, the Rebels had 464 yards of total offense, including Wallace’s 305 through the air on 20-of-34 passing and 31 yards on the ground with two total touchdowns.
“I thought I had my best game of the season until the final play of the game,” Wallace said. “We took care of the football, and I think I prepared this week better than I have ever prepared for a football game and it definitely helped me out. It just crushes you when on the very last play of the game you do that.”
Scott led the way for the Rebels on the ground with 108 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. The receiving core got plenty of action with Moncrief and senior Ja-Mes Logan both catching six passes for 73 and 53 yards, respectively, followed by sophomore Vince Sanders with five catches for a team-leading 81 yards.
Although Ole Miss came up short, the team is focused on Saturday’s game against Auburn. Kickoff from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is set for 11:21 a.m. on the SEC Network.
“Auburn is a good football team,” Wallace said. “We’ll have another chance to get an SEC win. We just have to come back and prepare for them next week.”
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