Rebels, Commodores open season in style

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If this was any indication of what’s on the horizon this season in the SEC, we could be in for the football ride of our lives.

Then again, how does anything trump this gem of an opener?

Ole Miss won it, then seemingly lost it and somehow managed to win it again Thursday night in a 39-35 shootout over Vanderbilt that swung back and forth and featured a little bit of everything.

“It’s the wildest roller coaster I’ve ever been on,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.

And an incredibly entertaining one.

It was college football at its finest. Unpredictable. Emotional. Captivating.

It’s why the season can’t start soon enough for college football fans. And while openers can sometimes be sloppy and mundane, we might look back four months from now and say this was one of the games of the year.

“If I wasn’t playing, this is a game I would have loved to have been at home watching,” said Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt, whose interception with 26 seconds to play finally sealed it for the Rebels.

But not before there were six touchdowns scored in the final 25 minutes of the game, three lead changes in the final nine minutes and an electrifying 75-yard touchdown run by Ole Miss’ Jeff Scott with 1:07 left, capping a 29-point second half by the Rebels.

Only two plays earlier, Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels had connected with a wide-open tight Steven Scheu on a 34-yard touchdown pass to give the Commodores a 35-32 lead.

And that wasn’t the best of it. Vanderbilt’s brilliant senior receiver, Jordan Matthews, managed to get behind double coverage on fourth-and-18 and haul in a 42-yard catch to set up Scheu’s touchdown, which came on a busted coverage. Matthews had courageously gone back into the game after absorbing a vicious hit over the middle a few plays earlier and throwing up on the field.

Earlier in the game, Matthews cramped up and had to go to the locker room to take some IV fluids. He said he threw up from having all the fluids on his stomach.

“That’s the kind of game it was. Nobody wanted to lose it,” said Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, who rolled up 331 yards of total offense and carved the Commodores apart in the second half with several keepers on the zone read play.

The truth is that nobody deserved to lose it.

Ole Miss, which made a habit of losing games in the fourth quarter last season, fought back from a 21-10 halftime deficit.

But even with the Rebels scoring touchdowns on three straight possessions in the second half, the Commodores kept answering.

“The game is never won,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “They played for four quarters just like we played for four quarters [last year in a 27-26 win at Ole Miss]. I could name 15 plays that would have made a big difference.

“We had the lead, lost the lead, lost the momentum and gave up a big play to end the game.”

Both teams were hoping to build on the momentum they generated last season. The Commodores won nine games for the first time in nearly 100 years and were sporting the SEC’s longest active winning streak at seven straight games.

The Rebels, in Freeze’s first season, had gone from two wins to seven and capped their season with a top 5 recruiting class nationally.

“It was important that we started this season the right way,” Scott said. “The thing you see about this team is that we’re going to keep fighting no matter what. We learned some hard lessons last year.”

The Rebels also learned that their freshman class is for real. Receiver Laquon Treadwell caught everything and led the team with nine catches for 82 yards. Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche had several key stops. Safety Tony Conner had an interception, and offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson both played extensively as the Rebels churned out 185 of their 206 rushing yards in the second half.

Granted, it was just one win, but it was a win the Rebels absolutely had to have when you look at what’s looming on their schedule. They play at Texas in two weeks, and after a bye travel to Alabama and Auburn in back-to-back weeks.

“This is just the first step in getting us where we want to be, but it’s a step we had to take,” Wallace said.

We can only hope the next few are just as entertaining.