It was a game of momentum, and Ole Miss had it when it mattered most.
Mississippi shut down All-SEC receiver Jordan Matthews when they needed to, and their use of the read-option gashed the Vanderbilt defense as the Rebels defeated the Commodores 39-35 in the season opener Thursday night. Bo Wallace and the Rebels overcame a 21-10 halftime deficit behind a strong late effort to record their first win over Vandy in four years.
The game will stand as one of the greatest of all time in the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss rivalry. The Rebels and Commodores exchanged the lead three times in the final two minutes in an instant classic in Nashville. Only when Austyn Carta-Samuels's final pass caromed into Cody Prewitt's hands could fans on either side exhale once again.
Carta-Samuels had a pair of touchdowns and 300 yards passing in his first game as a starter against SEC competition. Matthews had 178 yards through the air in an inspiring performance from the senior captain.
Vanderbilt struggled to gain their footing early. A 50/50 ball on the game's first drive led to a Carta-Samuels interception that set Ole Miss up for a field goal. One three-and-out later, the Rebels used a one-yard Barry Brunetti plunge to take a 10-0 lead that sucked the energy out of Dudley Field midway through the first quarter. Another three-and out left Vandy fans wondering if the loss of Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy had left the Commodore offense deflated in 2013.
Jordan Matthews wasn't having any of that, though. The senior wideout picked up the slack to spark this team's passing attack with a rally-sparking 28-yard reception on 3rd-and-seven to open the 2nd quarter. Wesley Tate finished off that drive with a three-yard touchdown dive to make it 7-10. After a Kyle Woestmann sack led to a Rebel three-and-out, Carta-Samuels hit Matthews on the very next play with a screen pass that the All-SEC player took 55-yards to the end zone.
When another Ole Miss drive stalled out in Vanderbilt territory, the invigorated Commodores struck again. Carta-Samuels engineered an 80-yard drive that was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run from redshirt sophomore Jerron Seymour. Though the Rebels threatened with a field goal attempt as time wound down, Vanderbilt ran into the locker room with a 21-10 advantage at the half.
Ole Miss wouldn't go down easily, though. Barry Brunetti returned to take a read-option run three yards up the middle and cut the Commodore lead to 21-17 with the second drive of the third quarter. The 'Dores responded with an ACS-led drive that covered 75 yards - 32 of which came from a monster Jerron Seymour run down the left side. Wesley Tate, the biggest of the Commodore backs, picked up his second TD of the night with a three-yard run.
The Rebels added a touchdown behind a 75-yard drive, and it looked like they'd get back in the driver's seat when Brian Kimbrow fumbled the ensuing kickoff after getting leveled on the return by Channing Ward. Fortunately the 'Dores recovered, but their offense couldn't turn that opportunity into points. With the ball back in their hands, Ole Miss switched to a hurry-up offense that gouged the Vandy defense and gave Mississippi their first lead in the second half behind a one-yard Bo Wallace touchdown run.
That lead held up until the Vanderbilt offense came through when they needed it the most. Minutes after Jordan Matthews was helped from the field after absorbing a vicious hit over the middle (and vomiting up roughly two liters of Gatorade), the 'Dores turned to him on fourth-and-18...and he came through. Matthews hauled in a 42-yard pass to keep Vandy's drive alive. One play later, Carta-Samuels hit an inexplicably wide-open Steven Scheu for a long touchdown that gave Vandy a 35-32 lead with under 100 seconds to play.
But Ole Miss wasn't done. It only took them two plays to go 75-yards, all thanks to one incredible run from Jeff Scott, who torched the Vandy defense to make it 39-35 Mississippi with 1:07 to play. The 'Dores still had hope though; Darrius Sims's kickoff return, coupled with a 15-yard facemask penalty, put Vanderbilt into Ole Miss territory with a chance to win the game.
It wasn't to be, however. On third-and-four, a Carta-Samuels pass bounced off Matthews's hands and into Ole Miss possession. With that, the Rebels ran out the clock - and earned their first win over the Commodores in four years.