Bulldogs take back Golden Egg

Patrick Willis tackles Brandon Thornton

Rock bottom. That seems the only phrase appropriate to describe the Ole Miss Rebels' 35-14 loss to the hosting Mississippi State Bulldogs at Scott Field in the season finale for both teams.

STARKVILLE - The 102nd version of the Egg Bowl proved to be a forgettable end to a forgettable season for Ole Miss, who finished last in the overall SEC standings en route to its worst overall record in seventeen years. Ole Miss (3-8, 1-7) handed State (3-8, 1-7) its first SEC win of the season and snapped the Bulldogs' 19-game losing streak against SEC Western Division teams. The loss also ended the Rebels' three-game winning streak in the Egg Bowl series.

"This is obviously a disappointing loss for our football team," first-year Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron said. "We got outplayed physically and got whipped at the line of scrimmage. In a rivalry game, I knew it was going to be a fight. I expected a comeback effort, but we couldn't overcome missed tackles. We turned it over and didn't play with a total team effort, and they beat us."

The Bulldogs' 35-point outburst was the most they scored against an SEC opponent this season, the second-most being the ten points State scored against Arkansas last week in a 44-10 loss to the Razorbacks. Senior Bulldog tailback Jerious Norwood humbled the Rebel defense, rushing for 204 yards on 34 carries and accounting for four touchdowns, the most the Rebel defense has given up all year. In the contest, Norwood eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season, becoming only the second Bulldog in team history to accomplish that feat.

"We wouldn't have won if he hadn't had a game like he did today," second-year Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom said. "He's our horse right now. That was the reason we won the football game. I'm proud of our entire football team for the way they've carried themselves throughout the season. They've showed a lot of character and a lot of heart."

The game started inauspiciously enough for the Rebels. Starting quarterback Ethan Flatt moved the Rebels 65 yards in five plays, highlighted by a 41-yard touchdown pass to Taye Biddle, to give the Rebels a 6-0 lead. Placekicker Matt Hinkle added the extra point to put the Rebels up a touchdown less than two minutes into the contest.

The teams traded possessions for the rest of the first quarter, but State's offense found its groove in the second period behind the power running of Norwood and scored on all three of its possessions.

State started the quarter with a big play on special teams. Senior linebacker Clarence McDougal got a hand on Rob Parks' 12-yard punt and gave the Bulldogs excellent field position at the Rebels' 33-yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, Norwood weaved his way into the end zone from 33 yards out to tie the game 7-7.

On Ole Miss' next possession, Flatt was intercepted for the second time in the game, and junior Bulldog defensive back Jeramie Johnson returned the ball 40 yards to the Rebels' 11-yard line. Three plays later, Norwood powered his way for a two-yard touchdown to put State up 14-7.

Senior quarterback Michael Spurlock, who drew his first career start at tailback earlier in the game, replaced Flatt on Ole Miss' next series and guided the Rebels 85 yards in nine plays. Spurlock hit sophomore Robert Lane for a seven-yard touchdown to tie the score at 14-14 with 5 minutes, 6 seconds remaining before halftime.

But State responded with a drive of its own, going 80 yards in 11 plays to take a 21-14 lead into halftime. Norwood's one-yard touchdown dive with 46 seconds remaining put the Bulldogs on top for good.

The Rebels and Bulldogs traded possessions in the third quarter before State throttled Ole Miss in the final frame. The Rebels ran only five plays in the fourth quarter – two of which were interceptions and one a sack.

State took its first possession in the fourth quarter and went 73 yards in 13 plays – the first 12 of which were rushing plays that consumed more than six minutes of the clock, the Bulldogs' longest drive of the year. State quarterback Michael Henig capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Bryson Davis to put the Bulldogs up 28-14.

State ended the scoring with an eight-play, 44-yard drive. Henig threw his second touchdown pass of the game, this one a five-yarder to Norwood, and kicker Adam Carlson added the PAT to end the scoring 35-14.

State outgained Ole Miss 304-31 on the ground and racked up 23 first downs compared to the Rebels' 12. Not much went right for the Rebels, who head into the offseason with a lot of questions to answer.

"This season has been very disappointing," Orgeron said in front of media members after the game. "We went in with no idea of what type of talent we had. We will have to evaluate everything we have been doing and make some adjustments. Staff evaluations will take place in the near future, but first we have to do some recruiting. I will be on the road recruiting tomorrow."

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