NASHVILLE — Both Georgia Tech and Ole Miss arrived at LP Field for the Music City Bowl wanting to make amends for losing to bitter in-state rivals in the final games of their regular-season schedules.
But for Ole Miss junior quarterback Bo Wallace, who had committed three turnovers in an overtime loss to Mississippi State on Thanksgiving weekend, it was more personal.
"I wanted to get that taste out of my mouth," he said. "I didn't want to go through the winter like that."
And so he didn't, his two rushing touchdowns and one touchdown pass more than enough to offset his one interception in a 25-17 Rebels win that now has Ole Miss owning the nation's longest bowl winning streak at six.
Either fellow Southeastern Conference member Auburn or Florida State will tie the Rebels with a win in the BCS title game next Monday night.
"I didn't want to screw that up," Freeze said after watching his team finish the year 8-5 a year after going 7-6. "I'm glad to win two bowl games in our first two years. With what we inherited, I think it says we're heading in the right direction."
And the Yellow Jackets of the Atlantic Coast Conference are clearly headed in the wrong direction regarding bowls. They've now lost eight of their last nine, finishing the year at 7-6 after losing three of their final four games.
"We didn't play well enough in any facet to win the game," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "We were fortunate that we had a chance at the end to come back and win."
Indeed, for as well as Ole Miss had played in piling up a 23-7 lead and a 127-yard statistical advantage by the close of the third quarter, the Jackets ran off 10 consecutive points early in the fourth quarter courtesy of a field goal, Wallace's lone miscue and a subsequent 72-yard pass from Vad Lee to Darren Waller.
Now it was 23-17 and most of the announced crowd of 52,125 suddenly was growing concerned about the Rebels.
"You don't expect that from Georgia Tech," said Freeze, referring to the Jackets' grind-it-out style based on running the option. "But I didn't expect them to go away."
Yet the Rebs had kept the Jackets off-balance most of the game -- "We were out of sync all day," Johnson said -- because of a new defense deployed by Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.
"You can't stay in a conventional defense against these guys," said Wommack, who worked under Johnson at Tech in 2008 and 2009.
Asked for details of what he did to confound the Jackets he said, "It's too hard to explain."
And with 5:24 to go, Tech getting the ball at its own 20 after blocking an Ole Miss field goal that might have put the game out of reach, Wommack's scheme made the defensive play of the game.
After being backed up to their own 15 following a penalty, the Jackets tried to run a reverse, which wound up being a safety after linebacker Serderius Bryant forced a fumble by Corey Dennis. The Rebels lead was now 25-17, plus Tech would have to punt the ball back to Ole Miss.
"A big momentum swing," Freeze said after the game in which the temperature matched his name, the thermometer dipping to 32 degrees in the final period.
A momentum swing he believes could last well past Monday.
"There's no question that winning a bowl game is very advantageous to you," he said, "heading into recruiting and the offseason for the confidence of these young men like Bo."
Not to mention the statement it makes to the rest of the nation, that statement chanted long and loud by Rebels loyalists at game's end: "S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C.!"
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...