BATON ROUGE -- An 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss on a Saturday Night in Tiger Stadium sparked a fourth-quarter comeback by the eighth-ranked LSU football team, 41-35.
Odell Beckham Jr. brought back memories of Billy Cannon's 1959 Halloween night punt return of the same distance against the Rebels with a dazzling run that ended with a game-tying touchdown.
With four Rebels bearing down on him, Beckham Jr. fielded the punt at the 11 in the south end of Tiger Stadium. The sophomore darted to his left, getting a block from Jalen Collins that took out two defenders at the 13. He cut back right and broke a tackle by Ole Miss' Joel Knight at the 23, ran along the 25 yard line, dodging a tackle by Mike Marry. A block by Jalen Mills allowed Beckham Jr. to turn the ball upfield at the right hash, and another by Deion Jones at the LSU 45 put him in the backseat of a five-man escort to the endzone.
The point after touchdown tied the game at 35-35 with 9:10 to play, and running back Jeremy Hill scored his third touchdown with 15 seconds remaining that gave LSU (9-2, 5-2 SEC) its margin of victory.
"Everyone had their block, everyone had their man and everyone covered their assignments," Beckham Jr. said following his second return for a touchdown in 2012. "I saw a crease and I just hit it. I ended up getting to a wall, but then I saw Jarvis (Landry) reel me into motion. It was an amazing experience and definitely changed the momentum of the game, and I just have to thank God for it."
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger became the first Tiger to throw for 200-plus yards in three-straight games since Matt Flynn in 2007. The junior completed 22-of-37 passes for 282 yards. He was intercepted on consecutive throws in the third quarter, but overcame the mistakes to lead the Tigers to a 20th fourth-quarter comeback under head coach Les Miles.
Miles, who became the second-winningest coach in school history with an 84th victory, gave an inspired defense of his team and his senior class following the game.
"I want you to know something," Miles said with growing emotion. "It would be said about my career at Michigan. It was a flop. I underplayed my own expectations. My head coach probably would have told me that you overplayed your physical limitations. My point to you is,there is no such thing as a flop that takes the field for our football team.
"Just so you know, I'm proud of those men. How easy it could have been to say it was their (Ole Miss') night. Spectacular group of men. You go find them, throw your arms around them and you give them a big kiss on the mouth, if you are a girl. Wow, what a game! Are you kidding me?"
Hill helped the Tigers turn a wild game into a victory, as he became the first true freshman to rush for three touchdowns in a game since Kevin Faulk (vs. North Texas, 1995). For an offense which struggled to finish off drives with touchdowns in the redzone, Hill got in the endzone on runs of 27, 1 and 1-yard, netting 77 yards on 20 carries.
Spencer Ware added 55 yards including a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal that gave LSU its only lead of the first half, 17-14.
Tight end Travis Dickson, who entered the game with one career catch for 10 yards, led the Tigers with five catches for 69 yards. Four of his catches for for first downs.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry added 60 yards on four grabs, while James Wright finished with 64 yards on three catches. Wright setup Hill's first touchdown with a 48-yard catch, and also had a 50-yard reception to the Ole Miss 9-yard line later in the first half that was called back by holding penalty.
Defensively, sacks by Anthony Johnson and Lavar Edwards deep in LSU territory pushed Ole Miss to the limits of its field goal range and led to a miss with the game tied at 35 and less than five minutes to play.
Linebacker Kevin Minter again led the Tigers with 11 tackles including two behind the line of scrimmage. Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Lamin Barrow each added 10 tackles. Safety Craig Loston, Collins and cornerback Tharold Simon each picked off passes and linebacker Deion Jones recovered a muffed punt.
LSU returns to action for the regular-season finale on Friday, Nov. 23, when it travels to face Arkansas. Kickoff on CBS is set for 1:30 p.m. CT in Fayetteville.
Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5 SEC) had the Tigers on their heels for most of the game but gave up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter after building an eight-point lead.
Starting quarterback Bo Wallace split time with backup Barry Brunetti, with the former completing 15-of-35 passes for 310 yards. He also ran for a 58-yard touchdown for the Rebels first touchdown and added a 1-yard score that gave Ole Miss a 21-17 lead just before halftime. He was sacked three times and threw three interceptions.
Brunetti, who was used primarily as a runner, had for 15 yards on eight carries and completed 1-of-2 passes for 6 yards.
Wallace was the Rebels' leading rusher, though running back Randall Mackey added 41 yards and Jeff Scott had 37. Wide receiver Donte Moncreif had game-highs of six catches for 161 yards and touchdown catches of 56 and 30 yards.
Ole Miss outgained LSU, 463-427.
The Rebels took it to the LSU defense with big plays in the opening quarter. A 58-yard scramble for a touchdown by Wallace gave Ole Miss a 7-0 lead with 10:16 remaining in the quarter.
However, LSU answered with a two-play, 75-yard drive that started with a 48-yard diving catch by Wright and ended with a 27-yard touchdown run by Hill. Only 21 seconds after the Ole Miss score, Drew Alleman tied the game at 7-7 with the PAT.
After a quick three-and-out by Ole Miss, Mettenberger connected with Dickson for 30 yards to the Rebels 37. The quarterback's scramble on third-and-5 came up short, and Alleman's 47-yard field goal attempt was missed just to the right.
Ole Miss took advantage of the miss when Wallace found Moncrief open on third-and-7. The 6-foot-3 receiver shook off a tackle by cornerback Simon and bolted 56 yards for a touchdown. Ole Miss regained the lead, 14-7.
After converting one first down on a short run by Ware, LSU went nowhere and punted. Brad Wing's 49-yard effort was muffed by Korvic Neat at the Ole Miss 16 and recovered by LSU Jones at the 18.
Hill gained a first down inside the 5, but LSU wasn't able to punch in with two Hill runs. On third-and-goal from the 5, Mettenberger's pass in the endzone was ripped from Landry's grasp and LSU settled for a 22-yard field goal by Alleman that cut the deficit to 14-10 with 14:50 remaining in the half.
LSU's defense forced another turnover -- an interception by Collins off a deflected pass -- putting the offense in prime position once again.
This time, the Ware helped the Tigers take advantage. He caught an 11-yard screen to the 22, then used a cut-back run and a stiff arm for 14 yards to the 8. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Ware leaped over the pile to give LSU the lead for the first time, 17-14, with 9:57 left in the half.
Ole Miss changed the pace of the game by using Brunetti's feet to get near midfield. The Tigers defense stepped up with a pass breakup by linebacker Micah Eugene on third-and-5, and Ole Miss punted only 14 yards.
The Tigers looked to strike quickly, as Mettenberger went over the top to Wright for 50 yards to the Ole Miss 9. But, center P.J. Lonergan was flagged for holding and LSU wasn't able to overcome the penalty.
With Wing's punt downed at the Ole Miss 3, Wallace returned to lead the Rebels on a 97-yard scoring drive that included a 24-yard pass on the first play. An 18-yard pass on third-and-9 to the Rebels 46 kept the drive alive, and a 20-yarder on fourth-and-4 put Ole Miss in scoring position. Wallace setup his own 1-yard scoring run with a 25-yard pass to Logan, and Ole Miss took a 21-17 lead into halftime.
In the opening moments of the third quarter, defensive end Sam Montgomery earned a sack just before Simon intercepted Wallace and returned six yards to the Ole Miss 20. Once again, the Tigers came up short in the redzone, as Hill lost three yards on third-and-goal from the 7. Alleman cut the LSU deficit to one, 21-20, with a 24-yard field goal at the 11:42 mark.
The Rebels' ensuing drive ended in three plays and a punt, giving LSU the ball at its 48. A 23-yard pass over the middle to Dickson moved LSU into Rebel territory, and a 22-yard pass to wide receiver Kadron Boone on third-and-10 gave LSU a first down at the 14. On third-and-3 from the 7, Mettenberger looked to Landry for a first down pass inside the 5. However, rather than sitting down in the zone, the wide receiver abandonded his spot and the pass was intercepted by Golson in the endzone. The first offensive turnover in 332 plays cost LSU a chance at the lead.
Two possessions later, Ole Miss extended that lead after a Mettenberger inteception on a long pass into Ole Miss territory. Golson returned 21 yards to the LSU 38. On third-and-10, Wallace broke containment for a first down to the 24 and converted a fourth-and-3 from the 17 with an 8-yard pass. Two plays later, a read-option handoff from Brunetti to Mackey went for a 6-yard touchdown that gave Ole Miss a 28-20 lead with 50 seconds left in the quarter.
A crazy fourth quarter -- which started at 5:34 p.m., just 27 minutes after sunset -- started with consecutive scoring drives, as the Tigers tied the game at 28-28 momentarily before Ole Miss took the lead back with a 28-second drive.
LSU's points came on the heels of an 88-yard drive which started with a 22-yard catch and run by Boone to the 1-yard line. Hill ran around the left side for a touchdown, and Ware caught the two-point conversion to tie the game. However, after a kickoff out of bounds, Wallace found Sanders for 35 yards to the LSU 30. On third-and-10, Wallace drew LSU offsides and then took advantage of the free play to connect with Moncrief for a 30-yard touchdown pass.
Ole Miss regained the advantage, 35-28, with 11:11 left.
As LSU tried to answer the score, Mettenberger took a hit and was forced to exit the game for a third-and-5 play. His backup, Stephen Rivers, threw high of his target and LSU punted.
The Rebels also went three-and-out, forcing a punt. LSU brought pressure against Ole Miss punter Jim Broadway, but he was able to get the kick away.
Beckham Jr. then brought the crowd to life with his 89-yard return, and the PAT tied the game again, this time at 35-35, with 9:10 to play.
Later, Ole Miss punted again but Beckham Jr. managed only three yards to the LSU 33. After a 30-yard catch and run by Landry, the ball was stripped from behind by Ole Miss' Mike Hilton and recovered by Marry at the Rebels 32.
LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan sacked Wallace for an 11-yard loss on the next play, but Logan was flagged for facemask. From his 47, Wallace sat in the pocket and found Mackey alone along the right sideline for 37 yards to the LSU 16. Consecutive sacks by Johnson and Edwards proved huge in the outcome, as Ole Miss placekicker Bryson Rose was forced to attempt a 53-yarder that sliced to the right.
With all the momentum, LSU's offense returned to the field and worked its way into Ole Miss territory in the final two minutes with a 6-yard run by Ware on third-and-1. On third-and-3 from the 42, a 7-yard pass from Mettenberger to Boone gave LSU a key first down to the 35. On the next play, Mettenberger was hit by linebacker Nicholas Nkemdiche, who was flagged for roughing the passer. With a first down at the 20, LSU was content to run the clock and run right at the Rebels. Hill's 16-yard run around the right end put the ball on the 2, and the freshman scored for the third time from 1 yard out with 15 seconds to play.
With 12 seconds remaining after a short kickoff return, Ole Miss' final drive went nowhere and the Tigers celebrated the Senior Day victory.
A school-record 741,005 fans passed through the gates of Tiger Stadium for an eight-game schedule in 2012, giving LSU an average of over 92,600 for the third year in a row.
LSU vs. Ole Miss
Nov. 17, 2012
LSU HEAD COACH LES MILES
"First of all, hats off to the gutsy and game-filled Ole Miss team. Wow, what a spectacular game. There were a lot of things that we need to change about tonight. But, fundamentally, when you get into one of those nights. It was their night. Everything they did, the plays that they made with the ball on the ground at the wrong time and the penalty when we think we have the ball on the three-yard line. Ah, that is a penalty and we have to bring the ball back. When you find a team that fights beyond that, that there is never their night and somehow someway they are going to win. Man, that is special. There isn't a question about it.
"At times, the defense was just dominant. How about when we go down there, and if they hit a three pointer, they take a commanding lead? Basically, it becomes fourth down and about 25. The turnovers that were made and the big plays that were made. I have to tell you that if there was one game ball to be given in this evening, it is given to Odell Beckham. That was maybe the biggest momentum changer in a game that I saw. I mean, wasn't the Billy Cannon return 89 yards? Wasn't it really the same route? Someone needs to check that out, where the cuts were and that sideline. Was it the same night? Is this Halloween? I was on a roll there for a while.
"It was Senior Night. I've got to tell you something,I went to the field with 16 or 17 seniors, and every one's contributions to our team is noteworthy. Every one of them. There is not a guy on that list of men who hadn't had a great a career, who hadn't given tremendous effort and energy to his team. Who in fact played a lot of football, made plays today and made plays throughout his career. Whether he is a scout team player, a guy that plays sparingly or a guy that was highly-recruited and played his butt off, gave us leadership, is getting his degree and whose contribution was very significant, and will be for the next two games.
"I want you to know something. It would be said about my career at Michigan. It was a flop. I underplayed my own expectations. My head coach probably would have told me that you overplayed your physical limitations. My point to you is,there is no such thing as a flop that takes the field for our football team.
"Just so you know, I'm proud of those men. How easy it could have been to say it was their (Ole Miss') night. Spectacular group of men. You go find them, throw your arms around them and you give them a big kiss on the mouth, if you are a girl. Wow, what a game! Are you kidding me? When Odell Beckham was running, I felt that I was at the bowling lane."
LSU OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
On his punt return for a touchdown...
"On the punt return everyone had their block, everyone had their man and everyone covered their assignments. I saw a crease and I just hit it. I ended up getting to a wall, but then I saw Jarvis (Landry) reel me into motion. It was an amazing experience and definitely changed the momentum of the game, and I just have to thank God for it."
RB Spencer Ware
On tonight's game...
"You have to play four quarters of football. That's what this program teaches us. How we train enables us to go out there and finish strong like we did tonight."
On sending the seniors off with a win...
"It was emotional today at the hotel during our pregame. The seniors got up there and expressed their feelings about how it was their last game and what kind of mark they wanted to leave tonight."
On tonight's game...
"I didn't feel at any point that we were going to lose this game tonight. I felt like we had control throughout the game. We had a couple of turnovers, but we were driving the ball pretty well. Hopefully we go into Arkansas and get another win."
On Jeremy Hill's performance...
"It makes my job a lot easier when he goes out there and gets a big play like that. He really showed up tonight as a player, and I'm really proud of him."
RB Jeremy Hill
On his three touchdowns...
"I think my performance was just OK. I did miss some plays, but as far as my touchdowns go that all goes to the offensive line. They did a great job of blocking, and I was just doing my job."
On his expectations for himself this season...
"I just do what the coaches tell me to do. When my number is called I just do what they tell me to do. Basically, whoevers number is called is expected to make great plays."
DEFENSIVE END SAM MONTGOMERY
On the two sacks late in the game...
"Those were big time plays. That's something that we practice as a d-line. You have to come through. No matter what happens, you have to make those big-time plays. Players have to step up. That's what my teammates train to do."
On Odell Beckham Jr.'s punt return...
"I am so happy he got into the endzone. (Beckham Jr.) is a very crafty guy. He is very agile like a cat. I'm glad he can get down there, and wing through those people and score a touchdown."
DEFENSIVE END BARKEVIOUS MINGO
On tonight's game...
"That's a rivalry game. You never know how they are going to go. (Ole Miss) came out and played a really good game. Hats off to them. There are some things we messed up on, and we have to correct. We'll get back at it."
SAFETY ERIC REID
On tonight's defensive performance...
"We made a couple mental errors. We missed tackles that allowed (Ole Miss) to get two easy touchdowns at the beginning of the game. We just had to battle back."
DEFENSIVE TACKLE BENNIE LOGAN
On facing Ole Miss' offense...
"It was a lot of trickery. We knew going into this game there was going to be a lot of gap responsibility, because they do so much shifts. We know you have to play your technique and stay in your gap. Overall, we did a pretty good job. We had little mistakes, but once we correct those things we will be ok.
OLE MISS HEAD COACH HUGH FREEZE
Opening statement ...
"I've been coaching a long time, maybe not at this level, but this here is one of the three most difficult locker rooms to be in this year and this season. We'll keep bouncing back and fighting the next week. I'm really proud of them, and the coaches are proud of the effort that was given tonight with us being short-handed and losing (defensive back Charles Sawyer). Our kids just fought for our university and our fans, and they should be proud of that. We just can't seem to get the stop when we have to have one, or the touchdown when we have to have one, or the play. Our kids sure made a lot of plays tonight against a fine football team. Give Coach (Les) Miles and them credit. It was a great game in this rivalry tonight. It's just unfortunate that we can't celebrate one of these (victories)."
On punt returns ...
"They have great athletes. They had a punt block on, didn't even have a return set up. Our punter kicks a great punt at that time. I just continue to say that our special teams has been very good the past few weeks, and we're having to play a lot of kids a lot of snaps. We had three chances to make tackles there, and we didn't."
On Ole Miss ...
"I'm really proud of our kids. I love being in that locker room, but I hate like heck that they're hurting and don't have the sixth or seventh win this season with the opportunities that we've had, because of the way they played. Our team has gotten better, and we played one of the top-10 teams in the country at their place toe-to-toe tonight. It's just unfortunate that we can't celebrate. But yes, I'm very proud of the effort."
On vertical passing game success ...
"Obviously, we saw something that we felt good about. (LSU is) an athletic team that believes they can get up and play press. We wanted to challenge that, and I think our guys had success doing it. We wanted to keep coming back to it, we wanted to stay aggressive when we got the lead, and we wanted to take some shots. It cost us some sacks because that defensive front's so talented and is tough to protect all the time. We saw them pressing, and we wanted to challenge it."
OLE MISS OFFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
QB Bo Wallace
On his performance after sustaining an injury...
"It was tough. You could definitely tell early that I was hurting a bit. At the same time, we're a game away from bowl eligibility. It doesn't matter how bad I'm hurting - I've got to make a throw when I'm out there."
On what was working for the offense tonight...
"I think everything we were doing was working. It was just a really good game plan by the coaches. I thought we executed, for the most part, pretty well, but there were still times that we were shooting ourselves in the foot. We have to eliminate that."
RB Randall Mackey
On where this loss ranks for him during his career at Ole Miss...
"This was probably one of the worst ones. Tough loss. We should've had it - we let it slip away."
On if he thought Ole Miss was going to score on their second-to-last drive...
"At that point in my head, yeah [I thought we were going to score]. It was over to me at that point. But they stopped us and drove down to score. They did a good job."
On the loss tonight...
"It was a great game. It is every year. We're just tired of losing. We came ready to play."
WR Donte Moncrief
On the loss tonight...
"It hurt a lot, but that's football. That's the SEC. You've got to come at it with your best. They came out a little bit better than we did so they got the [win]. But we've got to put that behind us."
On how he separated from LSU's cornerbacks tonight...
"They were trying to play aggressive so I used my size, strength and speed. So once I used that, I got away from them so I could make a play."
OLE MISS DEFENSIVE PLAYER QUOTES
DB Senquez Golson
On the Team's Efforts to Win ...
"We had a couple of players step up and make some plays. That's what it's all about."
On Whether The Rebels Believed Were Going to Win Against LSU ...
"I've had a positive mindset on the success of our team before the season even started. When we play big teams, we just have to finish."
On the Rebels Upcoming Game Versus Mississippi State ...
"We play Mississippi State next week. We just need to win that game and get to that bowl game."
On His Team ...
"We know we can play. We just need to give it our all. We can play with the best. We just have to finish it."
LB Denzel Nkemdiche
On What Advantage He Feels His Team Had Over LSU ...
"We have speed. We have that advantage. Speed played a huge part in us stopping the run."
On the Team's Emotions After Losing Close Games ...
"It gives us that edge. We're mad and we're hurt. The only thing we can do is take it out on the next team we play. I feel that my teammates and myself are going to be prepared and ready to play Mississippi State this upcoming weekend."