For a moment, Benny Snell was the hero, pushing forward through the line to score his third touchdown of the game and put Kentucky back on top.
But Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf pulled out a red cape of his own, hauling in a 7-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds to pull the win out from under the Cats, 37-34, on Saturday night at Kroger Field.
“A very devastating loss,” Coach Mark Stoops said to open up his news conference. “The bottom line is we didn’t make enough plays in critical moments. They did.”
It looked like Kentucky was inches away from making a play at a crucial moment, when what appeared at first to be a fumble by quarterback Jordan Ta’amu inside the 20-yard line was overruled.
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“For a moment there we were all celebrating,” Stoops said, narrating the heartbreak. “We thought we had it won. So our guys thought the ball was loose on the fumble, but evidently it wasn’t.”
Two plays later, it was Ta’amu finding Metcalf in the left corner of the end zone with UK defender Lonnie Johnson clinging to him. Metcalf still managed to make the catch.
“Jordan put it on the money, just for me to turn around and just make a play,” Metcalf said.
Ta’amu threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns in the victory, completing 31 of 40 passes against the Kentucky defense.
Mississippi outgained Kentucky 473-455 in the shootout.
But for a long portion of the second half, Kentucky was shooting blanks.
In the loss, which ended the Cats’ hopes of contending for a division title in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky had a 10-point lead in the second half.
After scoring on its first five possessions — two field goals followed by three straight touchdowns — Kentucky’s offense went ice bath cold, going three-and-out on four consecutive possessions.
Those came after Kentucky went up 10 points out of the half on a 46-yard pass from Stephen Johnson to tight end C.J. Conrad.
“We really talked about after we got up 10 that we couldn’t have that happen and when it happened, I don’t know, I’ve got to watch the film,” Conrad said of the icy offense after that. The junior had five catches for 75 yards in the loss.
Johnson said it was all about missed assignments on offense.
“If I convert on third down and we don’t go three-and-out those (four) drives, it’s a completely different ball game,” said Johnson, who threw for 204 yards and a touchdown. “Me? I missed throws a couple of times. If that doesn’t happen, it’s a different game.”
Kentucky’s lead disappeared in that cloud of four straight three-and-outs and the Rebels took advantage to reclaim the lead early in the fourth quarter on a 49-yard field goal from Gary Wunderlich.
“I’m just proud of our defense,” Ole Miss Coach Matt Luke said. “They struggled a little bit, but they just kept battling. Man, they kept battling and gave us stops and they gave us an opportunity to win the game.”
The Ole Miss kicker also made field goals of 33 and 38 yards in the victory, which helped the Rebels improve to 4-5 overall and 2-4 in the league.
Metcalf’s other touchdown catch, this one for 58 yards late in the third quarter, evened the game at 27-27. The 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman had five catches for 83 yards.
A.J. Brown, who leads the SEC in receiving, added to his total with seven grabs for 65 yards and a score.
Kentucky’s defense was led by Mike Edwards’ 11 tackles. Jordan Jones added eight tackles, including three for loss and a sack.
There was no finger pointing from the offense, which nearly won the game on Snell’s 1-yard direct snap touchdown. The running back ran for 176 yards.
They all have work to do before next weekend at Vanderbilt, coaches and players said.
“All I can do next week is do even better than I did this week, just like I did prior before,” Snell said. “Losses are hard on all of us. … But Stoops is going to get us together, we’re going to learn and we’re going to win next week.”
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
4 p.m. Saturday (SEC)