November 25, 2012 1:08:28 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
OXFORD -- Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen has not only seen what happened Saturday night, but he also lived it in reverse.
In 2009, Mullen was the new coach ready to embrace the biggest rivalry in the state of the Mississippi. He took the microphone after a 41-27 victory against the University of Mississippi at Davis Wade Stadium and said, "One team in this state is on the rise and heading into the right direction."
Everything came full circle for Mullen and MSU in a 41-24 loss to Ole Miss. The Rebels helped bring that point home late in the game when a video of Mullen appeared on the jumbotron inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. In the clip from 2010, Mullen said, "We'll never lose to this team again."
Despite acknowledging the Bulldogs didn't play well, Mullen tried to poke fun at Ole Miss and its fans.
"They must love me here if they're putting me on the jumbotron," Mullen said.
The victory helped first-year coach Hugh Freeze and the Rebels (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) become bowl eligible. Freeze has brought a fresh and exciting energy to a program that has been tired of being pushed around in a rivalry MSU has controlled in recent years. Judging from the "Our State" billboards, ad campaigns, and marketing by the MSU athletics department, Ole Miss was motivated on many levels to end MSU's three-game winning streak in the series.
"Rebel Nation had to go through losing the momentum in this series," Freeze said. "I understand that was difficult. I lived it. I've been through it and our kids were very aware of that tonight."
Ole Miss won the Egg Bowl for the first time since 2008 when it earned a 45-0 victory in the final game of Sylvester Croom's coaching career at MSU. The Rebels also earned bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009.
"This game was personal," Ole Miss sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief said. "I've been hearing through Twitter and other media that we were soft and a lot of noise. I know I could make plays, and that's what I did."
Moncrief, who was highly recruited by both programs, caught seven passes for 173 yards and tied a school record with three receiving touchdowns.
"Our kids prepared to play, but we didn't execute very well, and that caused us to not play very well at all," Mullen said. "You never know how it's going to play out until you to game day and start doing it on the field."
MSU's seniors were trying to be the first class to win four straight Egg Bowl games since 1942. Instead, they had to deal with their first loss through an agonizing fourth quarter.
"It wouldn't be a rivalry if we won every game," MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks said. "It hurts, and if we don't learn off this then I expect the same thing to happen in the bowl game."
Mullen doesn't believe the determination to end MSU's winning streak and to become bowl eligible coupled with the fact it was playing at home tipped the scales for the home team.
"I can't imagine it playing to any more stakes than for us," Mullen said. "We take this game incredibly serious. I would be shocked if they didn't have that much energy for this game."
Judging from the shift of momentum Saturday night, Mullen and the rest of the MSU athletics department don't have to worry about being shocked again.
"These seniors had to walk around and hear how bad they were and how bad it was around here for so long," Freeze said. "Now they get to hear the good side of it, so I'm thrilled."
For more than a month, MSU (8-4, 4-4) will have to live with the feeling of knowing the trophy resides two hours north of Templeton Athletic Center in Starkville where it sat for the past 1,456 days.
"It's going to be really tough to deal with this," MSU senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis said. "We're going to have to find a way to put it in the back of our minds, but I don't know how long that will take."
Since he took that microphone in 2009, Mullen has referred to Ole Miss as the "The School Up North." After the game, he maintained he doesn't regret the boastful nature he had in his first three years in the rivalry.
"I stand by that statement and would make them again," Mullen said. "We just have to work harder, and these guys didn't put in enough to win this game. We need more."