October 20, 2013 1:59:08 AM
OXFORD -- In the sixth and final installment of the "Rocky" saga, Rocky Balboa says, "It is not how many times you get knocked down that counts, it is how many times you get up that matters."
The Ole Miss football team entered its game against No. 6 LSU on Saturday riding a three-game losing streak. The Rebels suffered more than their fair share of body blows in the losses, and gave up 51 points last week in a loss to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.
But Ole Miss showed it must have learned something from Rocky. Not only did Ole Miss keep getting back up following each hit from the Tigers, but it had enough left to deliver the clinching blow, a 41-yard field goal by Andrew Ritter with two seconds left that helped it pull a 27-24 upset in front of a sellout crowd of 61,160 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Ole Miss marched 61 yards in 14 plays in the final 3 minutes, 19 seconds to improve to 4-3 and 2-3 in the Southeastern Conference. LSU slipped to 6-2 and 3-2.
Ole Miss, which played the game without five defensive starters missing, played an inspired game on defense and forged a 10-0 halftime lead and a 17-0 lead in the third quarter. Ole Miss then responded to every LSU challenge with timely plays by the offense and a never-give-up-mentality by the short-handed defense.
With Ole Miss leading 17-7 midway through the third quarter, Ole Miss running back I'Tavious Mathers fumbled at midfield while struggling for extra yardage. Eight plays later, LSU was in the end zone to cut the margin to 17-14. Instead of staying down, the Rebels responded with the drive of the game, and possibly the season, going 76 yards in seven plays to make it 24-14 at the end of the third quarter.
"That drive was the key to the game," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "I think it is very important to note we ran the ball extremely well on that drive against a very good defense, I can't emphasize that enough."
Sophomore running back Jaylen Walton rushed three times for 47 yards in the drive, including the score from 26 yards through the middle of the defense.
The Ole Miss defense gave their finest effort of the season, forcing three interceptions of quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the first half to stymie an offense that entered the game averaging 41 points. The signature moment came at the 13:39 mark of the fourth quarter after forcing an LSU punt. The Tigers recovered a muff of a fair catch attempt by Korvic Neat, who was fielding punts for the first time because the regular punt returner, starting running back Jeff Scott, didn't play due to injury. The recovery gave LSU the ball at the Ole Miss 13-yard line.
Two running plays by Jeremy Hill had the Tigers at the 7 with a third-and-4. The Rebels flushed Mettenberger from the pocket before undersized sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross sacked him for a 16-yard loss back to the 23. The stand forced the Tigers to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Colby Delahoussaye that made it 24-17.
"Our defense has taken some hits, both physically and in the press, and they keep coming back to practice and working hard every day," Freeze said. "The energy they played with tonight set the tone. Holding LSU to a field goal there was a just reward for the effort they brought tonight."