Texas A&M’s Shemar Turner is ejected for a direct punch to the crown jewels of Ole Miss’ Micah Pettus.— Ben Stevens (@BenScottStevens) November 4, 2023
But look at Pettus.
He doesn’t even flinch.
A sack of steel. pic.twitter.com/Oc0vYIFEA4
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo
It wasn’t a matter of if Ole Miss’ offense was going to score in crunch time Saturday afternoon against Texas A&M. If you ask head coach Lane Kiffin and junior quarterback Jaxson Dart, it was a matter of whether or not it would happen too quickly.
Trailing by four with less than five minutes to play, Dart and the No. 10 Rebels orchestrated a nine play, 75-yard drive capped off by a go-ahead touchdown from sophomore running back Quinshon Judkins.
After what looked like a game-sealing interception from senior cornerback DeShawn Gaddie was overturned with less than 30 seconds to play, Aggies kicker Randy Bond lined up for a game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime.
Sophomore defensive tackle Xzavian Harris’ hand got just enough of the ball to force the miss, sending the Rebels to a 38-35 win over the Aggies at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
It is Ole Miss’ (8-1, 5-1) fifth win in a row overall and third-straight win against the Aggies (5-4, 3-3). Ole Miss has won 20 of its last 22 home games.
Senior wide receiver Tre Harris finished with a season-high 213 receiving yards and made acrobatic catch after acrobatic catch, and Dart completed 24 of 33 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns. Judkins ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns.
“I felt like we’ve been in that position before,” Dart said. “I feel like we’d been moving the ball the whole game. So, I never felt like … they had the upper hand or anything like that. So, I was really confident in us going down and putting it in the end zone.”
Saturday’s game featured momentum swing after momentum swing, whether it was a blocked Caden Davis kick being returned for a touchdown, a run from senior running back Ulysses Bentley IV called back for holding that would have put the Rebels up 21, Gaddie’s overturned interception or falling behind for the first time all afternoon late in the fourth quarter.
Through it all, Ole Miss remained calmed and composed; this isn’t their first rodeo. Saturday was the fourth game Ole Miss has won this season after being tied or trailing in the fourth quarter.
“You guys hear me talk about, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ It doesn’t seem very good at the time, but it makes you come together and block the field goal to win it.”
The first half Saturday was all about Dart, who stood tall in the face of the Aggies’ talented front and threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns. Dart threw a perfectly-placed 39-yard strike to Harris down the home sideline that up a nine-yard touchdown run from Judkins on the very next play for the game’s first points.
Dart took a big hit early in the second quarter and left the game for a play after receiving medical attention. He promptly returned and threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Harris to cap off the Rebels’ second scoring drive of the day.
The Rebels were on the verge of going up by three possessions part way through the second quarter when the first major plot twist of the day unfolded in the form of Davis’ blocked kick getting returned 75 yards for a touchdown. Ole Miss immediately responded in a big way, as senior Jordan Watkins found himself completely uncovered down the home sideline on the next drive for a 29-yard touchdown.
Texas A&M scored with just under two minutes left in the second quarter on a 13-yard touchdown run from Le’Veon Moss to bring the Aggies back within a possession at halftime. The Rebels held the Aggies to 134 total yards in the first half.
Texas A&M put itself in position to take the lead early in the third quarter, taking its opening drive to the 5-yard line on a nearly seven-minute drive. Saunders — who had been called for defensive holding earlier in the drive — provided the game’s next big swing, intercepting a Max Johnson pass in the end zone. The Rebels capitalized in just over a minute’s time, using another jaw-dropping catch from Harris to set up a second Judkins scoring run.
Texas A&M tight end Jake Johnson hauled in a 28-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing drive to bring the Aggies back within a score. Yet another impressive grab from Harris led to 22-yard field goal from Davis to extend the lead back to double-digits.
Texas A&M scored the next 14 points, though, and took its first lead with just under five minutes to play on a one-yard leap from Johnson.
Finding themselves in a similar position to where they were against LSU and Arkansas in weeks prior, Dart and the offense took over deep in their own territory with a late deficit. And they knew exactly what to do.
Ole Miss drove from its own 25-yard line down to the Aggies’ one, and Judkins took a shotgun snap and scored on the ninth play of the drive to put Ole Miss up 38-35.
Texas A&M took over with 1:40 to play and made its way past midfield. Gaddie appeared to seal the game with an interception at the Rebels’ 12-yard line, but a subsequent review overturned it as incomplete. It led to the game’s final tense moment, when Bond’s 47-yard kick was tipped by Harris, sending players and fans alike into a frenzy.
“I think the confidence comes from our preparation,” Judkins said. “It comes from … Monday, when we first come in after a win to Friday … Everything we do (is) on-time, the tempo, practice it to the best that we can. So, I think the confidence comes in games. It’s like, ‘OK, we know we’re going to go score, we’re going to go out there and execute, but it’s maybe one little thing you can tweak or one little thing you can work on to be better on the next drive.'”
Ole Miss travels to two-time defending national champion Georgia next weekend. The game’s kickoff time and broadcast network have yet to be determined.
(c)2023 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.)
Visit the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.) at www.djournal.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.