"It was just one of them nights when you just have to live with it," shrugged CB Johnthan Banks, after suffering his only loss in the series after three wins. "It wouldn't be a rivalry if we won every game."
The home team certainly saw it as their rivalry, one which has been defined in recent years by the Bulldog coach. So much so that before the final horn the home team was already repeating video of the famous, or from their standpoint infamous, Mullen locker room comment about never losing. They even borrowed Mullen's own exact language, calling the Egg Bowl a championship just as he always has.
Asked if he would have changed all this emphasis, Mullen was adamant. "Absolutely not," he said, with no regrets about fanning the flames for years. What the Bulldog coach, and club, did regret was not bringing their best game to this year's edition.
"Everybody is going to be excited about a rivalry game," WR Chad Bumphis said. "Everybody knew how big of a game it was. And we just didn't hold up on our end with it and execute."
Instead a halftime-tied game turned into an execution. The Rebels broke the 17-17 intermission scoreboard with a eleven-play drive and 41-yard field goal at 11:49, then converted an intercepted Tyler Russell pass into the night's pivotal opportunity aided by a defensive facemask. On second down at the Bulldog 29-yard line quarterback Bo Wallace found Donte Moncrief curling ahead of CB Darius Slay for the touchdown.
That blew open the floodgates. Another State facemask penalty put Ole Miss in the red zone for Wallace to find Moncrief again on a near-identical pattern, this time for a 16-yard touchdown. Three minutes into the last quarter the Rebels were back on the 16 and one more time angled the receiver—this time Vincent Sanders—from right-to-center and ahead of coverage. His goal line catch made it 41-17.
By bitter contrast in the same span the Bulldog offense had four turns with the ball also. They netted 54 yards on 16 snaps with no points, not scoring until seven seconds remained and backup QB Dak Prescott found Bumphis crossing the back line for an eight-yard touchdown. It was Bumphis' second score of the game but in the big picture meant little more than the first.
"But you have to give them credit, they played a good game," the senior said. "They executed better than we did and they just made plays when they were there."
No one more so than Moncrief, who tied a Rebel record with three touchdown catches. His 77-yard scoring play in the second quarter was the longest from-scrimmage result all game and sent the sophomore on his way to a 173-yard, seven-catch line. Several grabs came when double-covered, or maybe more accurately with two defenders in the immediate area but failing to cover.
Wallace finished with 294 yards passing and five touchdowns tossed out of 15 completions, showing just how big the strikes were against a helpless State secondary. Two other balls were caught by LB Cameron Lawrence, who matched his previous career total of interceptions in one quarter.
But those forced turnovers only emphasized the overall frustration Mississippi State inflicted on itself in the first half. By all rights the Bulldogs could have and likely should have been dominating the scoreboard at intermission regardless of statistics. Twice in The Opening half State began series in Rebel territory after a fumble or shanked punt. Neither produced points.
Nor did two trips into the Ole Miss red zone net any touchdowns. State gave up the ball on downs at the Rebel 18; then a series later at the six-yard line did kick the tying field goal. But all the missed and excellent chances made even a halftime deadlock feel like losing.
"Bad frustrating," Bumphis called it. "When you get in the red zone you've got to score. We didn't do that, so that's going to be the outcome."
Aggravating everything was how State did get two non-drive touchdowns, the first a 100-yard kickoff return by WR Jameon Lewis right after Ole Miss had taken the initial 7-0 lead on a 25-yard pass to Jamal Mosely. The Bulldogs even had a lead after Lawrence's first pick, in the end zone. Russell escaped an interior blitz to roll right and find Bumphis behind everyone at the one-yard line. The 42-yard touchdown withstood review for a 14-7 lead at 2:46 of the quarter.
It did not last as Ole Miss got a 43-yard field goal, then Moncrief outran coverage for a mid-field catch in stride and the big touchdown play. But in-between was likely the true turning-point from State's perspective. After a short punt gave possession on the Rebel 40, the Bulldogs reached the 18 with fourth down and a little more than a yard to go. A field goal would have made a 17-10 lead but Mullen wanted the full seven as he expected more fireworks to come.
"We felt good about the play call we had," he said. "I thought, we had the ball down there, and fourth-and-one, let's take the opportunity to go for it."
State even used a timeout after getting a look at the defense; and Ole Miss did the same with Prescott at quarterback. Almost everyone on both sides stacked between the hashmarks for the anticipated keeper-carry. But after lunging at the line Prescott stopped and tried throwing to Bumphis, a play practiced during the week and successful in goal-line once already this season.
Not this time, as Charles Sawyer followed the receiver and knocked the pass down. Two snaps later it was a 17-14 Dog deficit. Even though Devon Bell, who missed from 41 yards earlier, knocked the 23-yarder through for the tie it didn't dent Rebel momentum a bit.
Nor did State make a dent by rushing, with just 30 yards. A total of 35 yards were knocked off the team's net by sacks, but still the Bulldogs were unable to make gains on the ground. The offensive line was so badly and consistently mauled by the lighter and more aggressive Rebel defensive front, that Ole Miss rarely needed send extra blitzers. They stayed in coverage and contributed to a 18-of-33 night by Russell. He got 268 yards and one score but was intercepted twice, each time tossing into double-coverage, and ought to have been picked at least two more times.
"I think he was holding the ball a little bit long and missed a couple of throws," Mullen said. "He had a couple of high throws especially in the first half and never got himself in rhythm." Meanwhile the Rebels set their hurry-up tempo well, gashing State for 223 rushing yards with 111 by Jeff Scott. By game's end Ole Miss had 527 total yards to 333 for the Bulldogs. If not for the first half turnovers a rout would have been on even earlier.
As it was senior Bulldogs were in no immediate mood to enjoy a winning career record in the rivalry. Or even take much solace in post-season play, most likely the Gator Bowl on New Years Day. "It hurts, but we have to keep moving forward," said Banks. "We've got a bowl game to go play, and if we don't get better off this I just expect the same thing to happen in the bowl game. So we have to come back and respond and go get another win."
And then leave it to returning Dogs to set things aright in 2013. Sophomore Lewis was already thinking that far ahead during the second half. "Because I was upset on the sideline, like man we're losing to them? We came in for halftime like we weren't even supposed to be tied up with these guys? I think we shot ourselves in the foot," Lewis said.
"But next year we have to bounce back and get that trophy back."