In what may be college football’s most bitter rivalry, the No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels pulled away late to defeat the Mississippi State Bulldogs 17-7 to bring the golden egg back to Oxford.
Head coach Lane Kiffin, in his fourth year at Ole Miss, became the second coach to secure multiple 10-win seasons — a feat that had only been accomplished by Rebel legend Johnny Vaught in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The team’s only two losses came against Alabama and Georgia, who will be facing one another in the SEC Championship.
Both defenses were rock solid to begin Thursday’s contest. After a punt-heavy beginning to the ballgame, Ole Miss struck first blood with a 36-yard field goal from Caden Costa to take a 3-0 at the 8:23 mark in the second quarter.
Neither offense was able to reach the scoreboard at the intermission. Mississippi State attempted a 42-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining in the first half, but Kyle Ferrie failed to split the uprights.
Despite a gritty early outing from the Bulldogs’ defense, Ole Miss held its slight scoring advantage at the midway point with an opportunity to further its lead after receiving the first kick of the third quarter.
The Rebels were forced to punt on their opening drive of the second half. Mississippi State overcame early offensive woes to take a 7-3 lead courtesy of a Will Rogers keeper at the one-yard line.
Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart went down on the subsequent drive after taking a hit that ultimately caused MSU linebacker DeShawn Page to be ejected from the game for targeting. Dart returned to action after sitting out just one play.
All-American Quinshon Judkins, just a few plays following his signal-caller’s injury, surpassed 1,000 rushing yards on the season and scored a touchdown to put Ole Miss up 10-7.
“It definitely fired me up that our quarterback was lying on the ground and those guys were just stomping over him,” Judkins said after the game. “I took it personally when they did that.”
Kiffin’s crew continued to ramp up the offense. The Ole Miss head coach dialed up an out route to Jordan Watkins on a risky fourth down play just across midfield. After converting, the Rebels marched down the field. The drive ended with Dart finding tight end Caden Prieskorn wide open to take a 17-7 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
Interim MSU head coach Greg Knox’s squad was unable to convert a critical fourth down attempt down the stretch, giving the ball back to the Rebels who effectively moved the chains enough times to kneel out the clock and win on the road.
Once the clock hit 0:00, Kiffin, though happy for what his program accomplished this regular season, paid tribute to the late Mike Leach who coached his final football game against the Rebels in 2022 — a contest in which the Bulldogs pulled out a 24-22 win on the road.
“I’m excited to get the trophy back. That was really painful last year to lose that,” Kiffin said. “We kind of thought maybe that if you were ever going to lose it, once we learned later on that it was Coach Leach’s last game, then maybe that was meant to be. I miss him. I missed him today and I will never forget him.”
Judkins, with a 118-yard and one-touchdown performance, reached the quadruple-digit milestone and helped push his team to a victory. In what was a mostly uneventful night in the air for Ole Miss, Prieskorn led the team in receiving with 38 yards and a score.
Rebels’ punter Fraser Masin had his work cut out for him during the contest. The Australia native booted the ball eight times for 345 total yards — an average of 43.1 yards per punt.
On the Mississippi State front, Rogers completed 25 of 39 yards for 207 yards. Defensively, star linebacker and Conerly Trophy finalist Nathaniel Watson’s 21 tackles were the most on the team.
Ole Miss (10-2, 6-2 SEC) now awaits whether or not the program will be featured in a New Year’s Six bowl. Though it is unlikely that Mississippi State (5-7, 1-7 SEC) will keep its bowl streak alive, all hope is not lost in the Bulldogs’ quest to be featured in 14 straight postseason matches.