OXFORD, Miss. — Coaches often use the one about the ball not bouncing their way to help explain a loss.
For 11th-ranked Texas A&M, unfavorable bounces didn’t feel so cliche after a 29-19 loss to No. 12 Ole Miss on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Peculiar ricochets of the prolate-shaped pigskin kept A&M from gaining pivotal turnovers and touchdowns.
“It’s a game of inches,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “They won them in the first half, and we won them in the second half until the end when we just didn’t finish. That was the disappointing thing, because we got ourselves, after all of that, we got ourselves back in a position [where] you can still win the game, and just didn’t finish it the way we needed to finish it.”
A&M’s defense did well just to keep Ole Miss from putting away the game in the first half, but the Aggies weren’t able to recover a fumble on a drive that ended in Rebel points. Safety Demani Richardson popped the ball loose from Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral at the A&M 7-yard line, but the ball got kicked backward before an Aggie could get to it, and the Rebels recovered. Despite the 18-yard loss, Ole Miss made a 32-yard field goal to take a 13-0 lead.
On Ole Miss’ next drive, nickelback Antonio Johnson nearly had an interception that would’ve given A&M the ball in Rebel territory, but the pass bounced off his chest. Ole Miss then drove down to the A&M 1, got stopped on fourth-and-goal but forced a safety on the Aggies’ ensuing drive that proved to be a pivotal two points.
In the third quarter, A&M stripped Ole Miss running back Jerrion Ealy of the ball, but Corral recovered it. The drive didn’t end in Rebel points, but Ole Miss was able to pin the Aggies at their own 10 instead of having them take over 30 yards upfield.
“Turnovers win games,” Johnson said. “Ole Miss had two major turnovers at the end of the game to seal the deal. As a defense, we stress getting turnovers. We had a few, but it was critical ones that we should’ve got. Those are the ones you need the most.”
On offense, A&M’s Demond Demas had two game-changing drops in the second half.
The freshman receiver dropped a fade throw in the end zone that would’ve been a go-ahead, 35-yard touchdown catch. Instead, A&M settled for a 43-yard field goal and trailed 15-13 with 10:19 left in the game.
Later in the quarter, Demas bobbled a pass that was intercepted by Ole Miss’ Ashanti Cistrunk at the A&M 14. Two plays later, Ole Miss took a 22-13 lead with 6:32 left on a 13-yard touchdown run by Snoop Conner.
“We got the ball back on the 8, and we dropped the ball,” Fisher said. “It went through our hands, and they got an interception right there, and then had the drive and got ahead.”
As if the bounces hadn’t been cruel enough to A&M, one more went Ole Miss’ way for good measure. A&M attempted an onside kick after cutting its deficit to 29-19 on Devon Achane’s 9-yard TD run with 3:11 left. The ball bounced past the Ole Miss’ front line, and the Aggies had a chance to recover in Rebel territory, but the ball bounced underneath an A&M player’s hands and with it went a chance to pull off a late-game comeback.