By CHRIS BURROWS
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State coach Mike Leach admitted the Egg Bowl series with Ole Miss ranks among the nation’s elite rivalries in unpredictability.
“Both sides let the other think they’d won it,” Leach said. “It was erratic on both sides. Just about the time you think it couldn’t get any crazier, it did.”
Will Rogers passed for two touchdowns and Mississippi State stopped a potential game-tying 2-point conversion with 1:25 remaining to preserve a 24-22 Egg Bowl win over No. 20 Mississippi on Thursday night.
“This game had a season’s worth of excitement in it,” Leach said. “It was a wild game. An up and down game.”
The build-up to the Egg Bowl was dominated by conflicting reports whether Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin will leave to become head coach at Auburn, replacing Bryan Harsin, who was fired in October.
Kiffin met privately with his team Wednesday confirming his plans to remain. However, WCBI-TV of Columbus, Mississippi, reported Kiffin will be announced as the Auburn head coach as soon as Friday. Kiffin denied the report on social media Wednesday.
When asked after the game if he planned on being the head coach at Ole Miss next season, Kiffin simply said, “Yes I do.”
Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 SEC), which snapped a two-game losing streak in the series, rallied from a 16-7 deficit in the second quarter with a 10-point outburst in the fourth quarter. Massimo Biscardi hit a go-ahead 34-yard field goal before Rogers connected on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Rara Thomas to build the 24-16 lead with 7:58 remaining.
Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4 SEC) answered when Jaxson Dart threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Dayton Wade with 1:25 left, capping a 99-yard drive and closing within 24-22.
After two Ole Miss timeouts to set up the two-point try, Mississippi State defensive tackle Randy Charlton batted down a shuttle pass from Dart to preserve Mississippi State’s the advantage. J.P. Purvis recovered the ensuring onside kick to seal it, setting off a postgame celebration undimmed by steady rain.
“It’s a great win. A great win,” Leach said. “We responded in some really tough situations. It’s a great win for the program, a great win for the players and they’re really excited about it.”
Rogers finished 27 of 39 passing for 239 yards, converting 8 of 16 on third down. Jo’quavious Marks led the Bulldogs with 74 yards rushing on 14 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run.
Dart was 30 of 38 passing for 250 yards and two touchdown, including a 2-yard touchdown to J.J. Pegues in the second quarter. Ole Miss was limited to a season-low 331 total yards. Quinshon Judkins had 87 yards on 21 rushes, but the Rebels finished with 74 rushing yards after two sacks.
“Really didn’t think we did a really good job coaching in game with adjustments,” Kiffin said. “Credit Mississippi State, too. They played hard.”
GAME CHANGING SERIES
Trailing 16-7 with 1:55 remaining in the first half, Mississippi State responded with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 19-yard pass from Rogers to Lideatrick Griffin, with 8 seconds remaining.
“That was big. We struggled in the first half but mentally that drive helped us fight our way out of it,” Leach said. “The drive did a really good job of setting the stage for what we did in the second half.”
Rogers was 8 of 10 passing for 66 yards in the drive, converting twice on third-down situations to pull the Bulldogs within 16-14 at halftime, setting up 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for a 24-16 lead that proved decisive.
Mississippi State: This win checked off a lot of boxes, especially for Mike Leach after consecutive losses in a spirited in-state rivalry.
Since 2020, the Bulldogs have won seven games against AP Top-25 opponents, extended a double-digit streak of bowl appearances and consistently rank among the nation’s most productive passing offenses.
Mississippi State tends to fly under the national radar, but in the last two seasons, the Bulldogs are a solid 15-10 overall and 8-8 in the SEC.
Ole Miss: Just over a month ago, the Rebels were 7-0, ranked No. 7 in the AP Poll, mentioned as a dark horse in the CFP conversation and the head coaching status of Lane Kiffin was unquestioned.
The Egg Bowl loss capped a disappointing 1-4 finish. What happened? More importantly, what happens with Lane Kiffin?
The loss for No. 20 Ole Miss jeopardizes a 29-week streak of holding a slot in the AP Poll. The Rebels advanced to No. 7 before losing four of the final five games.
Mississippi State received votes, but would need a considerable bump to pass eight other similar teams to break into the AP Poll.
Mississippi State: Awaiting a bowl bid, marking 13 consecutive bowl appearances.
Ole Miss: Awaiting a bowl bid, marking 40 bowl appearances, the third consecutive under Kiffin.
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