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Lane leads Ole Miss to 20-3 victory in Egg Bowl

Ole Miss quarterback Robert Lane (15) runs upfield as Mississippi State’s Slovakia Griffith (25) closes in during Saturday’s Egg Bowl game in Oxford. (Meredith SpencerThe Vicksburg Post)

[11/28/04]OXFORD Freshman Robert Lane entered the game with confidence and established himself at quarterback for Ole Miss, delivering a clutch performance against the Rebels’ in-state rivals.

Lane threw for 108 yards with a touchdown and rushed for another 97 yards and a score to lead Ole Miss to a 20-3 win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Saturday. The victory marked the third straight in the rivalry for Ole Miss, which now leads the all-time series 58-37-6.

“We knew that they had improved from earlier in the season,” Lane said. “We had a great week of practice, and we were motivated to end this season on a winning note.”

Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe echoed Lane’s sentiments.

“I told our squad it’s amazing what can happen when you play together,” he said. “That was a solid, sound performance.”

Ole Miss ended a four-game losing streak, while Mississippi State ran its slide to three games to end the season. The Bulldogs have lost 12 consecutive road games and 15 straight against Southeastern Conference Western Division opponents.

MSU (3-8, 2-6 SEC) forced three interceptions and a fumble but never was able to capitalize with touchdowns. Ultimately, the defense tired out down the stretch from being on the field too long.

“They played hard, and they definitely played well enough to win,” MSU coach Sylvester Croom said of Ole Miss. “Bottom line, they had opportunities to make big plays and they made them. We didn’t.”

The knockout blow for Ole Miss (4-7, 3-5) came between the third and fourth quarters, when Lane led the Rebels on a 16-play, 98-yard scoring drive that sapped 6 minutes, 57 seconds off the clock and put Ole Miss ahead 17-3.

“It was a big drive for us,” Lane said. “It was funny, I went into the huddle before we even ran the first play and I told the offensive linemen and everybody that we’re going to take this and score right here, we’re going to do it. Sure enough, that’s what we did.”

The Rebels’ defense also dominated the Bulldogs, holding them to 220 total yards on 54 plays with only three first downs. MSU went three-and-out on its first five possessions, totaling minus-seven yards. The Bulldogs also fumbled five times, losing two, and had one interception.

Jerious Norwood gained only 24 yards on 11 carries for his second-worst performance of the season. Norwood had 17 yards on 11 carries in a 51-0 loss to LSU on Sept. 25.

“It all starts with the line,” Croom said. “Jerious Norwood did not have one of his better games either, that’s the problem. If we can’t run the football, we are going to have problems. It definitely hurt us because he was one of our captains. His leadership and experience went away, and that hurt us.”

Ole Miss piled up 421 yards, most of which came from a powerful running game.

The Rebels dominated the line of scrimmage in a physical matchup, rushing for 283 yards the same amount Auburn’s vaunted ground game had against the Bulldogs.

The strong running game allowed the Rebels to control the clock as they had the ball for 37:28, compared to the Bulldogs’ 22:32.

“It made a difference in the game,” Cutcliffe said. “We had the ball a long time, and I’m sure that gave us momentum. I think it gave us confidence.”

After a game-opening interception by Ethan Flatt, Ole Miss steadily attacked with its running game. Lane replaced Flatt under center and marched the Rebels 78 yards in 15 plays for a score. Lane found tight end Lawrence Lilly with a 4-yard toss for the first passing touchdown of his career.

Ole Miss drove down the field to start the second quarter, but Jonathan Nichols missed a 44-yard field goal. After holding MSU’s offense to its fourth straight three-and-out, the Rebels took advantage of a kick-catch interference call on MSU. Nichols atoned for his earlier mistake with a 39-yard field goal that brought the lead to 10-0.

While the Rebels advanced several drives, Mississippi State could not move the ball at all in the first half. The Bulldogs picked up only one first down a 46-yard run by Fred Reid. Outside of Reid’s run, MSU had 20 offensive plays for 12 yards.

Omarr Conner did not complete a pass in six attempts in the first half, and he finished with 150 passing yards on 8-of-28 passing.

“We didn’t play well on offense at all,” Croom said. “In the first half, we didn’t even show up.”

Mississippi State’s defense, however made several big plays. Safety Darren Williams picked up his second interception of the game midway through the second quarter. That sparked Reid’s carry, which set up Keith Andrews’ 23-yard field goal to cut the score to 10-3 before halftime.

“It was kind of frustrating that we couldn’t get going, but we’ve got to keep doing our part and just continue to force turnovers,” Williams said.

Ole Miss brought Flatt into the game and tried to answer back with a 2-minute drill. The Rebels picked up a pair of first downs and moved into MSU territory before Willie Evans sacked Flatt on third down to end the threat.

The Rebels’ offense sputtered to open the third quarter.

Jamal Pittman fumbled and it was recovered by MSU defensive back David Heard, a former Vicksburg High star. The Bulldogs settled for a 48-yard field goal, which fell short.

On the ensuing possession, Lane threw his second interception on a tipped pass to Clarence McDougal. MSU couldn’t capitalize, punted the ball and downed it at the 2-yard line.

Ole Miss then marched on its 98-yard drive, which was capped off by a 2-yard bootleg by Lane to put the Rebels ahead 17-3. Both Lane and Cutcliffe said they were the only two who knew Lane was going to keep the ball on the play.

“He didn’t tell anybody that he was going to keep the ball,” Cutcliffe said.

“He was the only one who knew he was going to keep the football. It makes for a better fake.”

A 22-yard field goal by Nichols gave the Rebels the 20-3 lead and the defense held strong until the end.

“This was a fun week,” Ole Miss receiver Mike Espy said. “We knew that this was the final game of the season, and we wanted to prove something to them.

“I’m proud of our seniors with the way they handled the adversity of the season, and I’m happy they were able to go out as a winner.”