OXFORD — Sometimes, a football game can come down to one play.
This adage is easily recognizable when that one play happens on the last play or goes for a long touchdown.
It isn’t so easily recognized when the game-changing play goes for a 9-yard loss in the third quarter. This was the case Saturday afternoon at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, as Ole Miss seized momentum from Arkansas after a big loss on a trick play and went on to earn a 34-24 victory in an Southeastern Conference Western Division battle before a sellout crowd of 60,856.
Arkansas had all the momentum on its side trailing 20-17 midway through the third quarter and driving for the tying or go-ahead points at the Ole Miss 39-yard line. Arkansas had just ripped off an 11-yard run for a first down and was having great success running the ball straight at Ole Miss.
That’s when the game changed.
Arkansas opted to go into its bag of tricks and called a halfback pass on first down. Running back Jonathan Williams took the handoff from quarterback Brandon Allen to the right side and looked downfield for an open receiver or to throw back to Allen, who was turning up the left side of the field. But the Rebels weren’t fooled. Junior safety Cody Prewitt was stride for stride with the receiver and junior cornerback Senquez Golson stayed at home to cover the quarterback. Williams had nowhere to throw the ball and nowhere to run and was bottled up and tackled for a 9-yard loss by Ole Miss defensive linemen Lavon Hooks and Channing Ward.
“I was very proud of Cody (Rebel safety Prewitt) on that play,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We went over that play last night and when they ran it, he was ready.”
Two plays later, Arkansas punted on fourth-and-19 and it was downed on the Ole Miss 6-yard line. The Razorbacks seemingly had held the edge by pinning the Rebels deep in their territory.
Ole Miss had other ideas.
After four plays, the Rebels’ short-yardage offense led by senior quarterback Barry Brunetti had moved the ball to the Rebels’ 25. Junior starting quarterback Bo Wallace came back into the game and delivered a beautiful throw to a wide open Ja-Mes Logan at the Razorbacks’ 25. The senior wideout took the ball 75 yards for a touchdown that extended the lead to 27-17.
The Rebels then forced a three-and-out and the offense picked up where it left off, going 64 yards in four plays with Wallace finding junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief in the right flat. Using a fine block by fellow receiver Jordan Holder, Moncrief streaked down the right sideline for a 52-yard score to make it 34-17 with 1 minute, 5 seconds left in the third quarter.
“That play was a great example of how our guys have bought in to what we do,” Freeze said. “Jordan using his hands and positioning himself to make the block was a prime example of what we try to teach our young men here every day.”
When asked about the quality and teamwork of his receivers, Freeze said, “I’ve followed Ole Miss football for a long time, and our group could arguably be one of the top receiving corps in school history.”
Wallace is the one who benefited Saturday. He was 28 of 37 for a career-high 407 yards and three touchdowns and two interceptions. Freeze said neither of the interceptions were the fault of Wallace.
“On the first, the receiver stopped on the route,” Freeze said. “The other was on a fourth-down play at the end of the game, and I told him not to take a sack.”
The win helped Ole Miss (6-3, 3-3 SEC) become bowl eligible for the second-straight year.
“We are very excited to be bowl eligible with three games remaining,” Freeze said. “We are maturing and heading in the right direction, but we’re still young in a lot of places. I was concerned how we would react to this early game. We didn’t have quite the energy early, but we still won.”
Ole Miss will play host to Troy at 11 a.m. Saturday.