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 wasn't such a pleasant day for Pitt, which lost for the second consecutive year in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Ole Miss (7-6) got off to a quick start, thanks to an uncharacteristic Pitt turnover, and continued its domination throughout the first half. The Rebels' first touchdown, a 14-yard pass from Bo 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, 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.