Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss 47, Texas Tech 34
Published 12:00 am Friday, January 2, 2009
By Jaime Aron
DALLAS ó There were backflips across midfield, 50-yard dashes carrying oversized flags and a team-wide sprint to the student section. Ole Miss waited five years to feel this good and the Rebels were going to enjoy every second of it.
A season of revival that already included an upset at the Swamp culminated Friday with a 47-34 victory over No. 8 Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl, sending No. 20 Mississippi into the offseason with a six-game winning streak and the anticipation of how coach Houston Nutt will build on his terrific debut year.
“I wish we could keep this team and bring it back,” Nutt said. Then, turning to some seniors next to him, he barked, “You can’t leave!”
Seconds later, he was so giddy that he told Cotton Bowl officials, “We’ll make the announcement we’ll come back next year, right now. Let’s go!”
To understand the excitement, appreciate how far this program has come: from 3-8 last season, winless in the SEC and bowl-less since 2003 (back when Eli Manning was a senior) to 9-4 and likely to grab a season-ending ranking in the teens.
It’s also worth noting those four losses were by a combined 19 points.
Better still, the surge to this warm-fuzzy finish began when the Rebels were 3-4 and smarting from consecutive losses after their road upset of then-No. 4 Florida.
“It’s … togetherness. That’s something we haven’t had in the past couple of years,” said Dexter McCluster, a 5-foot-8 bundle of moves and speed who ran 14 times for 97 yards and a touchdown.
In the final Cotton Bowl played in the stadium of the same name, the Red Raiders (11-2) converted a pair of early turnovers into a 14-0 lead.
But Snead led the Rebels to touchdowns on their next three drives.
The Red Raiders still had the most exciting season in their history, peaking at No. 2 in the poll in mid-November. That’s little consolation now, after losing two of the last three games.
“We would have liked to have finished on a better note,” said Graham Harrell, who was 36-of-58 for a Cotton Bowl-record 364 yards and four touchdowns, and became both the NCAA career leader in touchdown passes (134) and the first player with multiple 5,000-yard seasons.