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Ole Miss dominates Pitt in Compass Bowl

The SportsXchange

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Ole Miss turned Legion Field into its home -- both in the stands and on the field -- on Saturday as the Rebels closed coach Hugh Freeze's first season with a dominating 38-17 victory over Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

A bowl-record crowd of 59,135 showed up at Legion Field, with the majority clad in the red and blue of Ole Miss. The Rebels, who hadn't played in a bowl game since the 2010 Cotton Bowl, made sure their fans had a good time on a chilly afternoon in Birmingham.

"It was awesome," said Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, who threw three touchdown passes on his way to earning MVP honors. "It was a home game for us, that's what it was."

It was also a dominant performance for an Ole Miss team that didn't face lofty expectations at the beginning of the season and was 3-3 after six games. On Saturday, the Rebels (7-6) looked like a program headed in the right direction.

Freeze called it a "great first bowl game in our journey at Ole Miss" and added it was one that "will have a special place in my memory."

The memory won't be as pleasant for Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst, who led his team to a bowl game in his first season.

"Certainly give Ole Miss credit," Chryst said. "They beat us in almost every phase. They were clearly the better team."

That became evident quickly as the Rebels got off to a quick start, thanks to an uncharacteristic Pitt turnover. The Rebels' first touchdown, a 14-yard pass from Wallace to Ja-Mes Logan, came five plays after Tino Sunseri's pass was intercepted by Senquez Golson. It broke a streak of 271 Sunseri passes without an interception and set the Rebels up at the Panthers 23-yard line.

The Rebels extended the lead to 14-0 with 5:22 left in the first quarter when a 27-yard pass from Wallace to Randall Mackey capped a 10-play, 72-yard drive. Wallace was 10-of-12 for 80 yards with two touchdowns in the opening quarter. He finished 22 of 32 for 153 yards, with three scoring passes and two interceptions.

Pitt (6-7) crawled back to within a touchdown after Wallace's second interception. Pitt defensive back K'Waun Williams grabbed a deflected Wallace pass at the Rebels' 25-yard line and was tackled immediately. The Panthers scored 10 plays later when Sunseri avoided pressured and whistled a 10-yard scoring pass to Devin Street with 7:13 left in the half.

Ole Miss answered with five-play, 48-yard drive that took 1:03 off the clock. The drive began with a 49-yard kickoff return by Jaylen Walton and closed with an 18-yard scoring pass from Wallace to Vince Sanders.

The teams traded field goals in the final 1:56 of the half and Ole Miss led 24-10 at halftime. Pitt, which had only one turnover in the previous eight games, turned the ball over twice in the first 30 minutes. Sunseri, who hadn't thrown an interception since Sept. 15, had both with an interception and fumble.

The Ole Miss defense took over in the third quarter, limiting Pitt to four yards on seven plays, and the Rebels were able to build on its advantage. Ole Miss built the lead to 21 points with 3:51 left in the third quarter on a 1-yard plunge by backup quarterback Barry Brunetti.

The Rebels punctuated the victory with a 62-yard touchdown run by I'Tavius Mathers with 8:48 left in the game. Pitt's final score came on a 16-yard pass from Sunseri to Mike Shanahan with 2:23 remaining.

Pitt finished with just 266 yards on 68 plays and Sunseri was sacked four times. Middle linebacker Mike Marry had seven tackles with four tackles for loss and a sack.

"It's really because our defensive line," Marry said. "They were requiring a double team and that made my life easier."

It also gives Ole Miss plenty of momentum heading into Freeze's first offseason in Oxford.

"I've tried to learn not to make too much out of single game either way, but, no question this advances our journey a bit," Freeze said. "The process that we're on, to be relevant in the SEC West is our goal year in and year out. To be able to sitting where we're at, I think, far surpasses the prognosticators' picks. They all had us 2-9 or 2-10 early in the year and our guys really chose to buy in and determine we could be who we want to be. We don't have to have someone else determine that."

NOTES: With 24 points in the first half, Ole Miss tied a record for first-half points in the bowl's history. The Rebels tied South Florida, which scored 24 points against East Carolina in 2006. ... Ole Miss had 38 first downs, including 23 in the first half. ... Pitt safety Jason Hendricks had 17 tackles.
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