Masoli leads Ole Miss to win over Kentucky

Published 1:11 am Sunday, October 3, 2010

OXFORD (AP) — Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli wasn’t amazing on Saturday afternoon. But thanks to some help from his defense, he was certainly opportunistic.

That was good enough as Mississippi beat Kentucky 42-35.

Masoli, who helped the Rebels take advantage of good field position throughout the game, accounted for four touchdowns despite otherwise pedestrian stats. He completed 9 of 17 passes for 90 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown.

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“I was just playing my role — whatever the offense needed me to do at the time,” Masoli said. “I think I’m capable of a lot more. We really haven’t tapped into our full potential.”

Ole Miss (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) has won seven of its past nine games against the Wildcats. Kentucky (3-2, 0-2) hasn’t won in Oxford since 1978 — a streak spanning five games.

Kentucky opened the game with an impressive 8-play, 60-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 7-yard touchdown run by Derrick Locke. The Wildcats had little trouble moving the ball all afternoon, outgaining the Rebels 424 yards to 301.

But every time they tried to gain further momentum, there would be a crucial error. Ole Miss scored all three of its first-half touchdowns on drives immediately following Kentucky turnovers.

The Wildcats turned the ball over on the first play of back-to-back drives during the second quarter — once on a Mike Hartline interception and once on a Chris Matthews fumble — which helped the Rebels turn a 14-7 deficit into a 21-14 lead.

“Those turnovers are the most precious thing you have,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “When you get turnovers and capitalize on them, that’s huge. That really won the game for us. When you take those turnovers and have 21 points, you can win the game.”

Charles Sawyer’s interception was the first for Ole Miss this season. The Rebels were one of only three teams in the nation that didn’t have an interception going into Saturday’s games.

Kentucky’s Craig McIntosh kicked a 50-yard field goal just before halftime to pull the Wildcats within 21-17.

Ole Miss pulled away in the second half, putting together drives of 75 and 60 yards, respectively, to take a 35-20 lead by the end of the third quarter. The Rebels added another touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard pass from Masoli to Ferbia Allen for a 42-20 lead.

But the Rebels have had trouble holding second-half leads this season and Saturday was no different. Kentucky scored 15 unanswered points to pull within 42-35 with 1:34 remaining in the game, but the Wildcats’ ensuing onside kick bounced off several pairs of hands before going out of bounds as Ole Miss hung on for its second straight victory.

“It was a physical day and we’ve got to finish better than we did, but we set the tone early with the turnovers and that gave us the lead,” Ole Miss linebacker D.T. Shackelford said.

Hartline completed 27 of 46 passes for 300 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Locke caught eight passes for 108 yards and rushed for 68 yards and two touchdowns. But the Wildcats could never completely recover from the three first-half turnovers.

“We thought we had the momentum, but then we gave it to them,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. “… That’s really frustrating.”

Ole Miss’ Brandon Bolden rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. It was his first 100-yard rushing game against an SEC opponent.

The Rebels’ offense is averaging 37.4 points through five games — the program’s best mark since 1935.