By Stan Beall
The Star Herald
BIRMINGHAM––When Hugh Freeze was hired to replace Houston Nutt as the Ole Miss head football coach in December 2011, a tall task in rebuilding a program decimated by academic casualties and underachieving was at hand.
The Rebels had only won six total games in 2010 and 2011 coupled with only one SEC win during that span.
The Rebels would not win an SEC contest in 2011 going 0-8 in conference play. The Rebels had not only lost three years in a row to their instate rivals Mississippi State, they had also lost 16 SEC games in a row before defeating Auburn 41-20 on October 13, 2012.
This victory would catapult the Rebels into their second SEC victory in a row when they defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks in Little Rock the following week on a Bryson Rose game winning field goal as time expired.
The Rebels’ record now stood at 5-4 and the possibility of playing in a bowl game appeared highly likely, but three straight SEC losses, with two last minute losses to perennial thorn in the Rebels side Vanderbilt and Magnolia Bowl rivals LSU, would set the stage for the Rebels to claim bowl eligibility in the Egg Bowl.
The Rebels would trounce the Bulldogs 41-24 to finish the season at 6-6 (3-5 SEC) and would be invited to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., to face the Pitt Panthers of the Big East Conference.
Rebels fans came to Birmingham in droves, shattering the old Compass Bowl attendance record by nearly 17,000 people with an announced crowd of over 59,000.
The Rebel faithful wouldn’t have to wait too long for Ole Miss to get on the board. Senquez Golson stepped in front of a Tino Sunseri pass for an interception to set the Rebels up inside Pittsburgh territory at the 23-yard line.
The Rebels would score with 10:16 remaining in the first quarter when Bo Wallace found Ja-Mes Logan with a 14-yard strike to go up 7-0 over the Panthers after Bryson Rose connected for the PAT.
The Rebels would score again on an acrobatic catch by Randall Mackey after Wallace was able to find him from 27 yards out.
Rose connected on the PAT and the Rebels now led 14-0 with 5:22 to play in the first quarter.
The Rebels would take a 14-0 lead into the second quarter, but Pitt would pull within seven points after Sunseri found Devin Street from 10 yards out with 7:13 remaining in the half.
Jaylon Walton would return the ensuing kick 49 yards to set up a short field for the Rebels and Wallace took full advantage, finding Vince Sanders in the left flats for an 18-yard touchdown pass, Wallace’s third of the day, to put the Rebels up 21-7 after another Rose PAT with 6:02 remaining in the half.
Pitt would get on the board again after Kevin Harper connected on a 47-yard field goal with 1:56 remaining to push the score to 21-10.
The Rebels would answer quickly on a 10-play 50-yard drive ending in a Rose 31-yard field goal.
The Rebels would take a 24-10 lead into the intermission.
Both offenses struggled in the third quarter before the Rebels were able to score another touchdown on a Barry Brunetti one-yard run with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
This touchdown would put the Rebels up 31-10 over the Panthers as the fourth quarter began.
With 8:48 remaining in the contest, true freshman I’Tavius Mathers shredded the Pittsburgh defense on a 62-yard touchdown run to put the Rebels up 38-10 after another Rose PAT.
Pitt would add a late score when Sunseri found tight end Mike Shanahan from 16 yards out to round out the scoring at 38-17.
Offensively quarterback Bo Wallace, who completed 22 of 32 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions, led the Rebels.
Wallace also ran the ball eight times for 27 yards.
I’Tavius Mathers led all running backs with 96 yards on just six carries and a touchdown. Jaylon Walton had 10 carries for 58 yards and Randall Mackey had eight carries for 36 yards.
Vince Sanders led the Rebel receivers with five catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. Ja-Mes Logan had six catches for 36 yards and a touchdown while Donte Moncrief had six catches for 31 yards.
Defensively the Rebels were led by Mike Marry with seven stops, including four for a loss, and a sack with a forced fumble, Trae Elston with five tackles, Cody Prewitt with five tackles and Gilbert Pena with four tackles with one tackle for a loss.
“I played OK, nothing just crazy,” said Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace. “I felt really good at the start of the game and then had those two interceptions, I just had to bounce back from it. I think when coach Freeze went tempo that’s what settled me down a little bit because that’s what I’m comfortable in. Once we went tempo I felt back in rhythm a little bit.”
Wallace would claim the Fred Sington MVP award for his contributions on the day.
“I tried to learn not to make too much out of a single game either way, but no question that this advances our journey a bit––the process we’re on,” said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. “To be relevant in the SEC West is our goal year in and year out, and to be sitting here in year one far surpasses our prognosticators and their picks of us being 2-10. Our guys really chose to buy in and decided that we can determine who we want to be and not let somebody else determine that.”
The Rebels would finish the year with a 7-6 overall record.