NASHVILLE, Tenn. — University of Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze may have a highly-rated crop of freshmen to coach. Senior Jeff Scott made sure his new teammates left their first college game as winners.
Jeff Scott ran 75 yards for a touchdown with 1 minute, 7 seconds left, and Ole Miss rallied twice Thursday night to beat Vanderbilt University 39-35 in a wild season opener for both teams.
Vanderbilt went up 35-32 on a 34-yard TD pass from Austyn Carta-Samuels to Steven Scheu with 1:30 left. But Scott beat the Commodores for a TD and the fourth lead change.
“We stole one tonight,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We didn’t necessarily play that well, particularly defensively in the second half. But one of the staples of our program since I’ve been here is that you play for 60 minutes and you do not blink and you play until the whistle blows at the end of the game.”
Vanderbilt had a final chance to extend the Southeastern Conference’s longest winning streak, but Cody Prewitt intercepted a pass off Jordan Matthews’ hands with 26 seconds left. That allowed the Rebels to snap a three-game skid to Vanderbilt, the last a painful 27-26 loss in Oxford last year.
“I knew we had to make something happen,” Scott said. “Last year, it was very painful. They came back. It was basically the same situation. We didn’t want to go through that again and feel that pain. We can’t. It is a long ride back home.”
Bo Wallace keyed the Rebels’ rally from 11 points down, running for two touchdowns and connecting with highly touted freshman Laquon Treadwell for the two-point conversion.
The Commodores gave up 29 points in the second half, their most since allowing 20 to the University of Florida in their last loss Oct. 13. The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for Vanderbilt before its first sellout in a home season opener since 1996 against the University of Notre Dame.
“The game is never won, just like it was never won last year when we were down at their place and came back and won,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “They did the same thing to us. We got a taste of our own medicine.”
Freeze came in with possibly the best recruiting class in Ole Miss history, and he put nine on the field in their first game. Treadwell started and caught a team-high nine passes for 82 yards, and freshman tight end Evan Engram had five catches for 61 yards.
Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1 player coming out of high school, started and also ran for 11 yards on a fake punt on fourth-and-1 late in the first half.
But it was Scott, a senior, who provided the biggest play of the game. He took a handoff and beat a defensive lineman to the edge, then outraced the Commodores to the end zone. Andre Hal had one last chance to trip him up at the 20 but couldn’t bring Scott down. Scott finished with 138 yards on 12 carries.
“I knew that it would be a good run play,” Freeze said. “Obviously, I didn’t know it would go all the way to the house. But I thought it would be a good run play.”
Vanderbilt had set its defense for a pass.
“They blocked us in space and (Scott) is fast,” Franklin said.
Wallace tied his career-high, completing 31 passes out of 47 for 283 yards, and he also ran 18 times for 48 yards on plays that helped set up Scott’s TD run. Backup quarterback Barry Brunetti ran for two TDs, and Ole Miss used its spread, hurry-up offense to out-gain Vanderbilt 489-426.
Carta-Samuels threw for 300, and Matthews finished with 10 catches for 178 yards. Junior Kyle Woestmann had two of Vanderbilt’s four sacks by halftime, but the Commodores didn’t get to Wallace in the second half.
Ole Miss took advantage of the Commodores’ early mistakes and led 10-0. Vanderbilt answered with 21 straight points.
Freeze even went for it on fourth-and-1 late in the first half, with Nkemdiche taking the snap as the up back. The consensus No. 1 recruit coming out of high school ran 11 yards for the first down. The Rebels ran out of time, and Andrew Ritter’s 55-yard field goal attempt was short and right.
The finish overshadowed a gutsy performance by Matthews. He went into the locker room for intravenous fluids early in the third quarter, and he took a hard hit from Prewitt on a catch late in the game. But Matthews caught a 42-yard pass on fourth-and-18 to set up Scheu’s TD, giving Vandy its last lead.
“I’ll be honest with you, I put a lot into that tackle,” Prewitt said. “For him to get back up and come in there, that shows a lot of leadership. He is a great player.”