OXFORD, Miss. – The last time the Ole Miss football team defeated a top-10 ranked opponent its highly touted freshman class was in the midst of its freshman year in high school, and head coach Hugh Freeze was leading the now defunct Lambuth University football program.
Four years later, facing the same school it did Nov. 21, 2009, Ole Miss defeated No. 6 LSU 27-24 on a 41-yard field goal by senior kicker Andrew Ritter with two seconds left on the clock.
“I’m extremely proud and thankful that God chose to bless us tonight,” Freeze said. “Sometimes God wets the wood before he lights it. We’ve gone through our share of being drenched a little. We’re thrilled to represent our university and Rebel Nation out there in a battle between two good football teams. I couldn’t be more proud of those young kids. We still didn’t make it pretty. We did some things that made it a bit difficult, but we found a way to get it done.”
Playing in front of 61,160 fans, the ninth-largest crowd in program history, the Ole Miss defense logged three interceptions, and sophomore running back Jaylen Walton, who was playing for injured running back Jeff Scott, rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns, both career highs. Ole Miss junior quarterback Bo Wallace went 30-39 for 346 yards, and junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief had five catches for 107 yards.
The Ole Miss defense, decimated by injuries to four starters, tallied its most interceptions in a game (three) since picking off three passes against Tulane last season. The Rebels’ 10-0 lead at the half marked the first time LSU had been shutout in the opening half of a game since the 2011-12 national championship game against Alabama.
The win over No. 6 LSU was the highest ranked opponent Ole Miss has defeated since 2008, when the Rebels topped No. 4 Florida.
Ole Miss opened the game’s scoring with a 28-yard field goal by Ritter with 1:23 remaining in the first quarter. The Rebels’ scoring drive spanned 69 yards on a whopping 17 plays after sophomore safety Chief Brown got the ball back for Ole Miss by picking off LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the Rebels’ own end zone.
The Rebels pushed their lead to 10-0 with 12:14 remaining in the first half when senior quarterback Barry Brunetti rolled out of the pocket and found junior tight end Nicholas Parker in the front-right corner of the end zone. The touchdown reception was the first catch of Parker’s career at Ole Miss.
The Rebels’ defense logged two interceptions in the second quarter, as junior safety Cody Prewitt picked off Mettenberger in the end zone, and senior cornerback Charles Sawyer picked off Mettenberger on the Rebels’ 11-yard line.
Ole Miss opened the second half with a great, nine-play drive that was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown plunge by Walton that gave the Rebels’ a 17-0 lead.
LSU fought back to cut the Rebels’ lead to three with a pair of touchdown runs by Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill in the final 6:16 of the third quarter, but Ole Miss never lost its composure.
After losing on a field goal as time expired one week earlier against Texas A&M, Ole Miss learned from its previous failures and responded on the ensuing drive against LSU with a 26-yard touchdown run up the middle by Walton. The electric carry by the Memphis, Tenn., native capped off a seven-play, 76-yard drive, and was the longest of his career.
The drama only heightened in the fourth quarter on this crisp October night, as LSU recovered a muffed punt return at the Rebels’ 13-yard line, and kicked a 41-yard field goal to pull within seven.
After blocking a 29-yard field goal attempt by Ole Miss with 6:29 remaining in the game, LSU used 11 plays to drive 80 yards and tie the game at 24 after Mettenberger found junior wide receiver Jarvis Landry from 4 yards out.
Ritter, who redshirted last season despite being healthy in hopes of helping his team in 2013, kept his head after the blocked kick and responded on the Rebels’ final drive of the game with a 41-yard field goal with two seconds remaining on the clock to give Ole Miss the victory.
“I knew I had to make that second one,” Ritter said. “The first one was going to be the difference, but I was fortunate enough to have another opportunity. I didn’t want to let the team and these unbelievable fans down. I just put it in God’s hands and I was fortunate enough it went through.”
“I’m happy for Andrew Ritter,” Freeze said. “To be asked to redshirt his senior year and then come back. … That kick will make memories of a lifetime for him.”
Prewitt, who recorded his team-high fourth interception Saturday, reminded Rebel Nation after the game of the promise he made at the beginning of the season.
“Buckle up,” Prewitt said. “It’s going to be a long, fun ride.”