Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 02: Kendrick Lewis #1 of the Mississippi Rebels celebrates a 21-7 win against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the AT&T Cotton Bowl on January 2, 2010 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Dexter McCluster gave Mississippi fans a finale to remember, rushing for 182 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 2-yard run on a direct snap with 4:03 left as the Rebels beat No. 21 Oklahoma State 21-7 in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
McCluster also had an 86-yard TD run in the second quarter after the senior had already become the first Southeastern Conference player with 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.
Ole Miss (9-4) had five turnovers in the game, but Oklahoma State had six in the fourth quarter, and seven overall.
The Rebels failed to capitalize on Kendrick Lewis' two interceptions, but McCluster scored after a fumble to break a 7-7 tie. Patrick Trahan picked up another fumble and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown less than a minute later, then intercepted a deflected fourth-down pass by Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson on the next drive.
The Cowboys (9-4) missed a chance for their first 10-win season since 1988 when coach Mike Gundy was their starting quarterback. Ole Miss coach and former Oklahoma State quarterback Houston Nutt was one of their coaches then.
Nutt has led to Rebels to consecutive 9-4 seasons, both capped by Cotton Bowl victories. Ole Miss had lost all eight of its SEC games in 2007 before Nutt replaced the fired Ed Orgeron.
Ole Miss and Oklahoma State, also 9-4 a year ago, came into this season with unprecedented expectations. Both were in the AP preseason Top 10 before early losses. Each entered the Cotton Bowl, the first in Cowboys Stadium instead of the game's namesake stadium, coming off decisive losses against their instate conference rivals in their regular-season finales.
They finished with a mistake-filled game in which both teams had missed opportunities -- each was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1, and Ole Miss missed two field goal attempts.
McCluster was the obvious standout, the game's offensive MVP for the second year in a row. He had 32 carries along with five catches for 45 yards. He leaves Ole Miss with 3,921 career all-purpose yards, second in school history behind Deuce McAllister's 4,889.
After becoming only Ole Miss' fourth 1,000-yard rusher on his third carry of the game, McCluster surpassed 500 yards receiving on the final play of the first quarter. Yet, his best was still to come.
McCluster's 86-yard TD run in the second quarter came on a handoff from freshman quarterback Nathan Stanley. McCluster went to the right and through a gap, running untouched for the second-longest run in the 74-year history of the Cotton Bowl.
That was Ole Miss' first offensive play after Jevan Snead threw an interception and was hit so hard on a blindside block while pursuing the defender with the ball that his helmet got knocked off.
Snead, a junior who has not declared if he will return for his senior season or go to the NFL early, returned to the game and finished 13 of 23 for 168 yards. His three interceptions gave him 20 for the season.
Robinson was 13 of 27 for 118 yards with two interceptions in his last game.
Oklahoma State tied the game at 7-7 midway through the third quarter when running back Keith Toston took a direct snap on third-and-goal from the 1. He made a step toward the line, then stopped and threw a jump pass to Wilson Youman for a touchdown.
Ole Miss made it to the 3 after Lewis' first interception. But after a penalty, two sacks of Snead and an incomplete pass, Joshua Shene was wide left on a 38-yard field goal try.
Shene, who missed only three kicks in the regular season, hit the left upright on a 41-yard attempt in the third quarter after a 63-yard punt return by Marshay Green set the Rebels up at the 13.
At the Rebels 19 after the second miss, Robinson thought he had a free play when there was no whistle despite an Ole Miss defender already over the line after a Cowboys lineman might have moved before the snap. But there was no flag, and Lewis picked it off in the end zone.
On third-and-goal from just outside the 1 in the first quarter, Ole Miss' 330-pound defensive tackle Jerrell Powe lined up at fullback like he had done several times this season. Powe got his first carry, but was stuffed just short by linebacker Donald Booker. The Rebels lined up and tried again with the same result, with Booker stopping Powe.
Powe got payback in the third quarter when Oklahoma State tried to score on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Powe wrapped up Toston's legs behind the line before Lewis hit him high to stop him short.