OXFORD, Miss. - A valiant fourth-quarter comeback attempt fell just short for the Ole Miss football team to allow No. 23 Cal to escape with a 28-20 victory at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday.
Ole Miss (2-2, 1-0 SEC) was mere feet away from tying the game on its final drive. A two-yard Elijah Moore catch and a John Rhys Plumlee sneak were both called short of the goal line as time expired in the fourth.
Quarterback Chase Garbers powered the Cal offense (4-0, 1-0 PAC-12) with 357 yards passing, four touchdown tosses and one interception. The Rebels struggled to stop the Golden Bears through the air, but held Cal to 60 yards rushing. It was the third straight game Ole Miss held its opponent to under 100 yards on the ground, the longest streak since 2008.
For the Rebels, Matt Corral went 22-for-41, tallying 266 passing yards. He also ran for a team-high 56 yards and a rushing touchdown before exiting the game with an injury late in the fourth quarter. Elijah Moore was Corral's primary target, catching 11 passes for 102 yards.
Lakia Henry was everywhere on defense, racking up a career-high 11 tackles. The defense totaled four tackles for loss, including three sacks.
The Rebels put together a solid opening drive, using a 10-yard Scottie Phillips reception and a 30-yard catch and run by Jonathan Mingo to move across midfield. The Cal defense clamped down in its own territory, though, and Luke Logan's 47-yard field goal attempt missed wide right to keep the game scoreless.
Cal also found success through the air early, as Garbers found his top target Kekoa Crawford for a pair of big gains early. He also hit running back Christopher Brown Jr. out of the backfield for a key third-down conversion to set up a six-yard touchdown reception by Trevon Clark to give the Bears an early 7-0 lead.
On the following drive, the Rebels battled back to tie it up. The drive opened with consecutive first-down receptions by Moore and Dontario Drummond. The Rebels faced a 3rd-and-3 shortly thereafter, when Braylon Sanders came through with a clutch nine-yard reception to keep the drive alive. Corral broke free on a 21-yard rush to set up the score, then he took it in himself from a yard out to tie the game at seven.
Tariquious Tisdale made the first big play of the day for the Landshark defense, fighting through a block and wrestling down Garbers for an eight-yard loss to halt the Bear drive. The Rebel offense responded, driving 57 yards behind a key reception from Demarcus Gregory and an outstanding reception on the sideline by Jerrion Ealy to set up a 29-yard Luke Logan field goal, making it a 10-7 Rebel lead.
It looked as though the Rebel defense would hold in its own territory on the following drive. A false start penalty made it 3rd-and-12 on the 37, but a 24-yard reception by Jeremiah Hawkins kept the drive alive. The Bears then faced a 3rd-and-10 on the 13, but Garbers hit Brown for the go-ahead score, putting Cal ahead 14-10.
On Cal's next drive, freshman corner Deantre Prince stepped up and pulled down his first career interception. He topped it off with an impressive 21-yard return to set the Rebels up to cut the Cal lead to one. Corral hit Moore for a 10-yard gain on the ensuing drive, but Cal held in the red zone, forcing Logan on for a 33-yard attempt, which he knocked through to make it a 14-13 Cal lead, where it stood at the half.
The Golden Bears opened the second half with the football and made the most of it, converting on 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-14 along the way. Garbers found Jordan Duncan for a nine-yard score through the air to make it a 21-13 lead for the visitors. The Bears didn't stop there, halting Ole Miss on 3rd-and-1 on the ensuing drive. Shortly thereafter, Garbers hit Jake Tonges for a 60-yard touchdown to give Cal a 28-13 advantage.
Sanders continued his strong return from injury with a 40-yard catch-and-run on the following drive. However, a dropped pass on 3rd-and-long brought an end to the Rebel drive just outside of scoring position. The Rebel defense held in response, stopping Cal on 3rd-and-1 to force a punt.
Ole Miss marched downfield on the ensuing drive, using heavy doses of Phillips and Corral on the ground to move deep into Bear territory. Facing a 4th-and-6 on the 22, Corral found Moore for a 20-yard gain to take it down to the two. However, an errant snap sent the Rebels backward 11 yards, and Logan missed on a 29-yard field goal attempt to keep the gap at 15 points.
The Rebels defense held again and got the ball back with 6:22 to go needing two scores. Sanders came up with a huge 4th-down catch to keep Ole Miss' hopes alive. Two plays later, a stinging hit forced Corral to the sideline.
Plumlee entered and immediately put a charge in the Rebel offense, running the ball 47 yards on his first career snap. Jerrion Ealy cut up the middle and scored, cutting the deficit to 28-20.
With Cal at midfield needing just two yards on two snaps, the defense held with back-to-back stops to give the offense the ball back with 2:45 left. Plumlee completed six straight passes to help Ole Miss march down the field, including an outstanding 43-yard leaping snag by Gregory to setup a first-and-goal situation.
Two rushing plays led to third down where Plumlee found Moore. Moore was called just short of the goal line with the clock under 10 seconds. With no timeouts left, Plumlee attempted a quarterback sneak on 4th-and-inches, but was stuffed short of the line as time expired.
After three straight contests at home, the Rebels will hit the road next week for their second Southeastern Conference game of the season at No. 2 Alabama.