The year 2000 could have been a really special year for the Rebels. The team seemed to lack a little magic this year. In previous years there was more excitement from this team, but this year, Ole Miss was more of the hunted team rather than the hunter. They had beaten Auburn and LSU in 1999 on the road, Deuce and Joe Gunn both were over 900 yards and 2000 looked to be THE year.
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Deuce started out as a Heisman hopeful and the team started out ranked in the top 20 but the senior back was just too banged up. He dislocated his shoulder against Vanderbilt in game three, pulled his hamstring late in the year and he lost his brother just a week before this dreary Oxford Egg Bowl.
The weather was true to Egg Bowl form, just above freezing and raining. But the fan bases of both teams really turned out this year. MSU had won the last two games and this was a chance for them to win three in a row for the first time since FDR was in office. Ole Miss fans felt like the 1999 Egg Bowl was a fluke, that was the miraculous tipped and kicked pass for an interception game. The bulldogs had to score 17 points in the last 13 minutes to win that one. 1998 was the year Romaro missed the game due to injury, so we felt like some redemption was way past due in Oxford.
I went to the game and suffered through the freezing rain, but the best part about doing these rewind articles is going back and watching the TV coverage. This was a great ESPN thanksgiving night game with the three amigo’s Kirk Herbstreit, Mike Tireco and Lee Corso.
They start the broadcast with turkey legs in hand and Herbstreit kicks off the discussion by stating, “This rivalry may involve more true hatred than Florida – Florida State.” I think I can agree with that. We may never get the hate level of a Harvey Updyke in this state (one can hope) but we surely take our football more seriously than a bunch of tank top wearing, parrot heads.
This game had a lot of memorable players on the field. Ole Miss had Deuce and Romaro of course, Ken Lucas, Terrance Metcalf, Charles Stackhouse, Derrick Burgess, Grant Heard and Doug Ziegler. MSU countered with Fred Smoot, Mario Haggan, Donte Walker, Kevin Fant, and Scott Westerfield. Porkchop Womack and Pig Prather were injured and did not play in this game, also Wayne Madkin started the game but was back in the locker room after two possessions due to complications with the flu he had been battling all week.
Even with all the injuries on the MSU side they started the game on fire with the running game. This was a very strong running team. Dicenzo Miller and Dontae Walker both combined for 1800 yards at the end of the year. This MSU team had a chance to win the SEC West after a 29-7 win over Alabama in Starkville. The week before this game they had a big let-down against Arkansas. Surely the hangover from the Alabama win contributed to a lackluster 17-10 loss to the Hogs. A team they were certainly capable of beating.
MSU looked like they were going to take out their frustrations on Ole Miss by scoring three times in the first four possessions and put Ole Miss in a 16-0 hole. On Ole Miss’ first chance in the second quarter they got the ground game going by leaning on Deuce and Joe Gunn, eventually softening up the secondary enough to get Grant Heard open for a touchdown which also tied him for most receptions for an Ole Miss wide receiver at 140 which he would break soon enough.
Kevin Fant took over for Wayne Madkin and had only played a few games prior to this matchup, and his inexperience was beginning to show. The Ole Miss defensive pressure and the rainy conditions made it hard for Fant to hold on to the ball and he began to bobble handoffs and rush passes.
Ole Miss defensive ends upped the pressure as Shane Elam had a big sack to give Ole Miss the ball back. Romaro got out of the pocket for a 50 yard run right up the middle to the one yard line where Duece bounced over the line giving the Reb’s new life only down 16-14.
Derrick Burgess got in on the action on MSU’s next possession and intercepted a Fant pass allowing Romaro and Grant Heard to link up on a slant and put the home team up 21-16 at the half. This was the first time MSU found themselves trailing a game at halftime this year and if Fant was concerned about the rain it only got worse while they were in the locker room.
The rain didn’t bother Deuce however as on his first carry after the intermission he took it to the house on a 72 yards score from the line of scrimmage. This was the longest rush given up all year by MSU, by 26 yards; 28-16 Ole Miss.
If you knew Jackie Sherrill, you knew he wasn’t going to let the emotion sweep his team away. As Ole Miss starts to party in the stands and on the sidelines, he goes back to work to find something his team can do without the senior Wayne Madkin passing option. Sherrill was quoted by the ESPN crew after halftime:
“We will play it one play at a time, don’t get too emotional, we are concerned with injuries. Offense has done a good job, but we are down to some walk-on d-lineman. We can’t get pressure on the QB, having a hard time.”
MSU’s Kendall Roberson intercepts a pass to get his team back in the game which resulted in a nice scramble by Kevin Fant and a Donte Walker score. On the next possession Fred Smoot breaks up a long pass to Grant Heard and Donte answers Deuce’s run with a 73 yard run of his own to take back the lead and momentum for the Bulldogs 30-28.
On the next Ole Miss drive, MSU gets called for pass interference to set up the Rebels for one of the best plays in Ole Miss history, a halfback pass from Deuce to Romaro which puts Ole Miss up for good 35-30 just before the fourth quarter.
Romaro stated on the MakeItRainSports show that, “Looking back, I wish I had gotten out of the pocket more during my college career, but i had to do it against those Bulldogs!”
Kevin Fant and the MSU team begins to self-destruct. As the most penalized team in the SEC, they looked frustrated and this probably cost them the game. At least one score was called back on a holding call, a couple of drives were killed due to off sides penalties and incompletions.
The game was iced when MSU punter Prentiss Cole fumbled a high snap at his own 8 yard line which resulted in the signature Deuce McAllister high jump over the line into the endzone. It seemed he got higher over the line every time he pulled that move. The Rebels finished the game with another field goal and back to back sacks on Kevin Fant on the last drive to win the highest scoring egg bowl to date 45-30.
The ESPN crew awarded one Pecan pie to Romaro Miller, from Corso, and Herbstreit gave half of his apple pie to Deuce and the other half to Coach Cutcliffe.
McAllister finished the game with all-time Ole Miss records in carries (612), rushing yards (3,050), all-purpose yards (4,879), touchdowns (37) and total touchdowns (42). I’m sure it was great to get the win over the Dogs in 2000, but Deuce had to be hurting over the loss of his brother to a spinal cord disorder and related respiratory ailments. Demetrius McAllister was only 23 and the two brothers were very close.
When asked about playing and dealing with the grief of losing his brother, Deuce was quoted by the Associated Press:
“Football becomes so much smaller. You realize that it’s just a game. Just be thankful that you are able to just go out there each day. The two two’s (referring to his jersey number 22) is one for me and one for Demetrius. I think I played to the standards that he would have wanted me to.”
Both teams went on to memorable bowl games as MSU went out to Shreveport and played in rare blizzard conditions against Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl (now known as the Snow Bowl). Ole Miss got ran out of the building at the Music City Bowl against West Virginia allowing young Eli Manning to enter the game and almost pulled out the win. He didn’t have enough time but after scoring three touchdown passes in six and a half minutes, he gave a glimpse of his future in Oxford.