Rebs having their moment in the sun

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Cleaning out the notebook from a late Saturday night while wondering just how the New Orleans Saints pulled off that ressurrection in St. Louis …

There’s no denying it now. The Ole Miss Rebels are in fact the true contenders to the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division.

And after Saturday night’s 35-24 landslide win in a nippy Tiger Stadium, LSU proved once again it has no business being thought of as a team that can win its division.

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Thanks to a porous pass defense (the nation’s worst statistically) and another bad night at the office from Tiger quarterback Rohan Davey, LSU will remain the only western squad to never make it to the SEC championship game. “It’s like I told the players, you never get these games back,” a beleaguered LSU coach Nick Saban said. “And I don’t think anybody in this organization did a good job, starting with me and going all the way down the line to get ready for this game.”

That much was evident.

After the final seconds ticked down, all of the LSU faithful had departed, but the few thousand Rebel fans that made the trip all hung around to bask in the glory of their fourth win over the Tigers in five years. Tiger Stadium has been Ole Miss’ personal playground of late, as they have won in each of their last three trips to Baton Rouge.

The emotions reached their peak when Eli Manning, who shined ever so brightly on one of southern college football’s biggest stages, came walking off the field triumphantly with his dad Archie and brothers Peyton and Cooper.

For Ole Miss fans, it was a moment for the ages, as Eli tamed the Tigers on their own sacred Saturday night turf late in the game, just as his dad did years ago in a 27-24 win.

But afterward, Eli, looking much more smallish with a shirt and tie on instead of shoulder pads, kept it all in perspective when asked about how it felt to win here as his dad did.

“Well, I really try not to think about that and just go out and try to do my own thing,” he said. “What’s important is I think this win helps us get some respect. LSU was picked first in the division at the beginning of the season, and we were picked last, so it just shows you never know what you’re going to get in the SEC.”

Saturday night, you also never knew quite when Manning was going to unleash on LSU’s unlucky pass defense, but you knew it was right around the corner, just waiting to pounce.

His brilliance sneaked up on everyone late in the half when he hung tough on a safety blitz on a fourth and 10 pass to Bill Flowers, a microcosm of the nerves of steel many his age can never display in a pressure cooker such as the one at the corner of Skip Bertman Dr. and Nicholson.

“He displayed composure the whole game,” Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said. “He knew it was coming. He held his ground and made a great play. He is a guy who is focused and poised. When you are prepared, you don’t have time to be nervous.”

Well, with the whole clan coming into town for this one, the New Orleans native must have been studying these Tigers since the day Romaro Miller walked out the door.

Richard Dark is a sports writer for The Natchez Democrat. Call him at 485-3633 or e-mail him at

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