OXFORD, Miss. — With 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Mississippi had a 13-point lead and felt good about its chances of getting a big win that would erase some of the sting from a 4-8 record in 2010.
Instead, the Rebels absorbed their first big loss of 2011.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy pounced on Ole Miss quarterback Zack Stoudt’s fumble with 5:09 remaining for the go-ahead touchdown in BYU’s stunning 14-13 comeback victory over Mississippi on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing,” Nutt said. “When you’re playing a really good team like that that’s rated high with experience you can’t beat yourself and you can’t give gifts.”
But the Rebels did. Stoudt’s fumble came on a third-and-27 play near the end zone when the quarterback tried to scramble away but couldn’t escape before several BYU defenders converged. Stoudt was hit, the football popped loose, and the Cougars were on their way to victory.
“I just got lucky,” Van Noy said. “... I was trying not to panic, but my adrenaline was really running because I knew this was a good play.”
For Ole Miss, the loss could be even more costly. The Rebels’ top two running backs — Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis — were injured during the game. Nutt said Bolden’s injury was to his left ankle and could possibly be a fracture.
Bolden, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior, rushed for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
BYU trailed 13-0 early in the fourth quarter, but Jake Heaps hit Ross Apo for a 19-yard touchdown with 9:52 remaining to pull within 13-7. Less than five minutes later, Stoudt’s fumble and Van Noy’s recovery set the final margin.
“We played with more urgency,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “It was enough to win the game.”
On the critical fumble recovery, Mendenhall added: “Kyle stepped up at a critical time, made a critical play and it turned out to be the difference in the game.”
BYU won its first game as an independent after leaving the Mountain West Conference last year. Heaps completed 24 of 38 passes for 225 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Cougars outgained the Rebels 318-208.
“I don’t know last year if we could have come through adversity like that,” Heaps said. “I’m really pleased with how we finished things today.”
Ole Miss led 3-0 at halftime and stretched it to 10-0 with 8:34 left in the third quarter on a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown by Charles Sawyer. But the Rebels never scored an offensive touchdown.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt had said that he hoped Saturday’s game would be played in stifling heat and humidity since BYU comes from a more arid climate. But with Tropical Storm Lee looming, the weather was relatively pleasant, with highs in the 80s and overcast skies.
The first half was full of punts, defense and missed opportunities. BYU gained just 102 yards while Ole Miss managed just 93. Bryson Rose kicked a 20-yard field goal with 49 seconds left in the first half to give the Rebels a 3-0 halftime lead.
Ole Miss sophomore Barry Brunetti started at quarterback, but the Rebels couldn’t do much with him under center. Part of that was because of an extremely conservative approach — Brunetti completed 2 of 3 passes for four yards before being pulled for Stoudt late in the second quarter.
Stoudt’s presence immediately energized the Rebels. The 6-foot-4, 217-pound junior completed two passes for a combined 21 yards on his first drive, which ended in Rose’s field goal just before the half. Stoudt finished 13 of 25 passing for 140 yards, but the crucial fumble is what most will remember.
The Rebels really didn’t get going until Sawyer’s interception, which stretched the lead to 10-0 and was the program’s longest interception return for a touchdown since 2007. Another Rose field goal pushed the Rebels’ lead to 13-0 early in the fourth quarter and the program looked well on its way to a much-needed quality win after a dismal 4-8 season in 2010.
BYU had other ideas.
The Cougars kept pounding away, with a 69-57 advantage in offensive plays. By the fourth quarter, the Rebels’ defense looked gassed, and didn’t have an answer for BYU. JJ Di Luigi rushed for 56 yards and also caught four passes for 32 yards.
“I love defensive games, especially when we don’t allow their offense to score a touchdown and you find a way to win,” Mendenhall said.