The Rebels had the game won in overtime not once, but twice.
The Rebels were up 52-45 when junior quarterback Chad Kelly ran it in eight yards for the score and had the game in hand.
The Ole Miss defense had Arkansas right where they wanted them in a fourth-and-25 situation to seal the shootout victory at home in overtime.
Then, magic happened.
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen completed a pass to tight end Hunter Henry, which was about 10 yards short of the first down. Swarmed by multiple Ole Miss defenders, Henry blindly threw the ball behind him in an attempted lateral, it skipped around a few bounces and was picked up by the running back Alex Collins. Collins got the ball and ran behind a brigade of blockers to pick up the first down.
“They had a whole wall blocking for him on the lateral,” Hugh Freeze, head coach, said of the fourth-and-25 conversion for Arkansas. “It was a crazy play. I”ve never seen anything like that.”
Shortly after converting the first down, on second-and-7, Allen found wide receiver Drew Morgan for the 9-yard score to potentially tie the game at 52 and send it to a second overtime period. Razorback head coach Bret Bielema had other plans. Bielema kept his offense on the field to attempt the two-point conversion to win the game.
And the heartbreak came.
On the initial 2-point attempt, Allen dropped back to pass and was immediately met by sophomore defensive end Marquis Haynes, but Haynes was over-aggressive and pulled Allen down by the face mask. The penalty was called and gave Arkansas new life at another 2-point attempt.
On the next attempt, Allen took the shotgun snap, ran to the right side of his offensive line and dove into the end zone to seal the improbable road victory for Arkansas and won the game 53-52.
The loss broke the hearts of an Ole Miss team that was still in the driver’s seat to win the SEC West.
“It is an extremely difficult way to end the game. I hurt for our kids, for our coaches, our fans and our administration,” Freeze said. “It is very difficult and gut-wrenching. It will test everything about you.”
A somber Chad Kelly walked into the team meeting room at the Manning Center and sat in the chair, where the media online casino swarmed him and fired question after question. The first question was how he felt after the heartbreaking loss. Fighting back emotions, Kelly paused for about five seconds before answering.
“It”s tough. Everybody played tough,” Kelly said. “Sometimes, it just doesn”t go your way. But you have to make sure you rebound.”
Kelly played his best game as a Rebel. Kelly was the leading passer and rusher in the contest, totaling 478 yards of offense and six touchdowns on the day. Kelly went 24-34 passing for 368 yards with three touchdowns and had 11 carries for 110 yards and three scores.
Kelly carried the Ole Miss offense as he went toe-to-toe with Razorback quarterback Brandon Allen. Allen finished the game with a career-high 442 yards passing and six touchdowns.
It was gut-wrenching for Kelly as he stood on the sidelines, hoping the defense would get the stop needed to seal the victory.
“I think everybody in the stadium thought they were going to stop them,” Kelly said on the defense in overtime. “The ball bounces a certain way and you can”t control that. We just got to regroup.”
With the way both offenses were moving and scoring with ease, the game needed overtime to decide a winner. The Arkansas offense put 605 total yards of offense on Ole Miss, compared to the Rebels’ 590 yards of offense. Before overtime, it was a game filled with insanity that featured eight straight scoring drives at one point.
High expectations were put on this Ole Miss defense after two strong performances against Texas A&M and Auburn. The defense struggled and let Arkansas have their way through the air. The defense did hold a strong Arkansas running game to only 163 rushing yards, but gave up 442 passing yards to Allen.
“Our plan was obviously not very good,” Freeze said on the defense. “Their quarterback played at an extremely high level. We struggled in every one-on-one situation we had.”
“They were a step ahead of us in everything that we did tonight,” Dave Wommack, defensive coordinator, said. “We felt like we had a good plan going in. Obviously, we didn’t, and now we have to go back to square one and look at it.”
The secondary for Ole Miss struggled mightily against the play-action passing game Arkansas features with a strong running game to back it up. The Rebel secondary gave up numerous big plays, and it cost them in the end.
“We lost almost all of the one-on-one battles against their receivers and tight ends,” senior defensive back Trae Elston said. “That”s what we had to do to beat them, and we didn”t do that.”
“The numerous amount of big plays we gave up was disheartening at times,” Freeze said. “I thought we rose up there at the end and we were going to get it done. Then the craziness occurred.”
Although they have lost control of winning the SEC West and a chance to play for the conference title in Atlanta, there is still plenty of reason to play. It”s hard to focus on that now, but Freeze pleaded to his team after the game to keep their heads up and push forward the rest of the season.
“We”ll respond. We”ll come out and fight,” Freeze said. “Crazy things happen, and there”s still a lot to play for. You never know what”s going to happen.”
With the bye week coming up and two games against rivals LSU and Mississippi State, the players feel the fire is still there.
“We just have to stay together. The season isn”t over,” Kelly said. “We”re all one family. We”re in this together.”