OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Bo Wallace’s first long pass of the game was a beautiful 42-yard strike to Donte Moncrief.
Mississippi liked the play so much they called it again later in the game. And again. And again. And again.
Wallace threw for 294 yards and five touchdowns — including three to Moncrief — as the Rebels used a huge second half to beat No. 25 Mississippi State 41-24 on Saturday night.
It was a sweet win for Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference), which won the Egg Bowl for the first time since 2008. The Rebels also earned bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009.
“This game was personal,” 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.”
Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4) made a field goal late in the second quarter to tie the game at 17-17 going into halftime. But the Rebels reeled off 24 straight points in the second half to push past the Bulldogs.
Moncrief caught seven passes for 173 yards and tied a school record with three receiving touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound sophomore used his wide body and sure hands to dominate against Mississippi State’s secondary, which simply couldn’t stop the Wallace-to-Moncrief connection.
Moncrief caught touchdown passes of 77, 21, and 16 yards.
Jeff Scott added 111 rushing yards on 28 carries. Ole Miss finished with 527 total yards.
“We just proved that we wanted it more tonight,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We didn’t do anything special in the second half other than just doing our jobs.”
Chad Bumphis led Mississippi State with six catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Russell completed 18 of 33 passes for 268 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
It was a rare bad game for Russell, who had thrown only four interceptions all season coming into Saturday’s game.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen’s brash personality has added some spice to the Egg Bowl in recent seasons, with the Bulldogs dominating the series and not being afraid to gloat about it.
Houston Nutt’s inability to beat Mississippi State was one reason Ole Miss fired him after last season, and Freeze has matched Mullen’s intensity since his arrival last year.
This time, it was the Rebels who had reason to celebrate. When it was over, hundreds of Ole Miss fans rushed the field, celebrating with a team that bounced back from a dreadful 2-10 season in 2011.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they played a good game,” Bumphis said. “They executed better than we did and they just made plays.”
The heightened emotions on Saturday were evident even at the coin toss, when the captains from both teams had to be separated by officials.
And the action started early with Ole Miss needing less than two minutes to score a touchdown. Wallace found Moncrief for a 42-yard completion on the second play of the game and the Rebels scored two plays later on a 25-yard pass to Jamal Mosley.
A packed Vaught-Hemingway Stadium went wild, but the celebration was short lived. Mississippi State’s Jameon Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to tie the game at 7-7.
It was the first of many early mistakes for the Rebels.
Wallace continued his maddening tendency to alternate spectacular plays with catastrophic ones. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, but also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Both passes were intercepted by MSU linebacker Cameron Lawrence.
Mississippi State pushed ahead 14-7 late in the first quarter on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Russell to Bumphis. Russell made the acrobatic throw after scrambling away from multiple Ole Miss defenders.
Ole Miss responded with a 43-yard field goal by Bryson Rose and then pushed ahead 17-14 when Wallace found Moncrief on a 77-yard touchdown pass.
But the Rebels exploded in the second half for 24 straight points while Mississippi State’s offense managed just 115 yards after halftime.
Wallace had no turnovers in the second half.
“I think early I let my emotions get to me a little,” Wallace said. “But in the second half I cut out the turnovers and we were able to win.”
The Rebels have had problems holding second-half leads this season — losing tight games to Texas A&M, LSU and Vanderbilt — but they never had to sweat against the Bulldogs. Wallace hit Vincent Sanders for a 16-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 41-17 and the rout was nearly complete.
“You could see the game getting away from them in the second half and that’s the best feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Ole Miss cornerback Charles Sawyer said.