The Rebels fell agonizingly short in the second half of their final home game Saturday against Texas A&M (7-4). The 31-24 loss dropped Ole Miss to a record of 5-6.
Jordan Ta’amu threw for 189 yards and two touchdowns, but it was a pick six in the third quarter that would ultimately seal the Rebels’ fate.
After a close first half, Texas A&M took complete control of the momentum and closed out a defensively sound second half. Nick Starkel threw for 272 yards, completed 19 of 32 passes and ran for a touchdown, leading the Aggies to victory.
After a promising first half, Ole Miss could not deliver in the second half, accumulating just 66 yards. Jordan Wilkins led the Rebels with 147 yards rushing, while A.J. Brown had seven catches for 70 yards.
Brown scored first for Ole Miss on a 27-yard pass from Ta’amu. Texas A&M would answer with a touchdown of its own off a 1-yard run from Keith Ford. The Rebels would take back the lead with a 64-yard run from Wilkins before the Aggies tied the score at 14-14 on a 10-yard pass to Damion Ratley.
The second quarter brought each team another touchdown. Braylon Sanders caught a 30-yard pass from Ta’amu for a Rebels touchdown followed by a score for Texas A&M. Ole Miss ended the quarter with a 28-yard field goal by kicker Gary Wunderlich.
Texas A&M’s Zaycoven Henderson was ejected late in the second quarter for targeting Ta’amu with helmet-to-helmet contact.
“After I took the hit, I just had to shake it off. It affected me, but I just had to keep playing,” Ta’amu said.
The Rebels led 24-21 at the half but a big play by the Aggies’ defense in the third quarter would propel it into a lead. An interception by A&M’s Derrick Tucker resulted in a 19-yard touchdown and a visible shift in the game’s flow. The Aggies were pushing hard to close out the game, but Ole Miss refused to break.
Daniel LaCamera later added three more points to the Aggies’ total with an 18-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The Rebels struggled throughout the second half; penalties, lack of execution and a stellar Aggies defense prevented them from putting more points on the scoreboard.
“I’m proud of our defense tonight. They played pretty well, and credit to Texas A&M and their defense,” head coach Matt Luke said. “For us, offensively, we struggled to protect the passer and couldn’t get in a rhythm offensively in the second half.”
Obviously, the Rebels hoped for better results entering their final game of the season Thursday. For Luke, whose position with the team could be in question after the season’s conclusion, beating Mississippi State is of the utmost importance. But the team’s approach to Thursday won’t differ.
“This is obviously a very big game coming up, and we just have to go back to work tomorrow and get ready for the next one,” Luke said.
The team is following Luke’s lead and putting Saturday’s loss behind it, instead opting to focus on a strong finish.
“There is nothing we can do about it, so we need to come in tomorrow and learn from our mistakes, let it go and move on,” Ta’amu said.