Although I have never been an Ole Miss football fan I was kind of rooting for them this year. A storybook narrative was developing as I pointed out in a recent post. But last night it was not to be. Last night Ole Miss (ranked #4) apparently lost their chance at a national championship by losing at home to an excellent (ranked #3) Auburn Tigers football team 35-31 (see ESPN's highlights of the game here). But it is the way they lost that resonates this morning.
I grew up watching ABC's Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoons. I saw the really excellent opening sequence to that series many times. Jim McKay voicing the phrase "the thrill of victory...and the agony of defeat" was part of the zietgeist of my youth. For many years "the agony of defeat" was a film clip of skier Vinko Bogataj wiping out in a ski jump competition.
But, last night's Ole Miss loss replaces the image that defines this phrase for me today. Auburn came storming back from a 24-14 deficit to the Rebels. The Tigers have a truly talented quarterback in Nick Marshall. Trailing by 10 points late in the third quarter Marshall faced a 3rd and 11 when he scrambled away from the feisty Rebel pass rushers and connected with an Auburn receiver for a 41-yard completion. A stunning play.
After that the Tigers seemed to storm over the Rebels at will, scoring three touchdowns to only one more by Ole Miss. But the Rebels had a chance, two of them in fact, in the final minutes of the game before a roaring home crowd at Oxford, Mississippi. They blew their first chance when Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace made a great scramble to prevent a loss of yardage caused by the Tiger defensive rush and struggled down to the two yard line where he fumbled the ball and Auburn recovered.
At that point I thought it was game over. I mean, Auburn had been running and passing all over the Ole Miss defense the entire second half. But, wait. No. Ole Miss stopped them and forced a punt. Ole Miss got the ball back with about 3:30 left in the game...and they drove again. Wallace connected with star receiver Laquon Treadwell, who escaped a few tackles and made it to the goal line with the football just as he was being pulled from behind by a desperate Auburn defensive back. Treadwell's right foot crossed over into the in-zone but the momentum of the tackle carried his body backward while the lunging Auburn player fell and accidentally pinned his left foot. This twisted and broke Treadwell's leg.
But the ball never "broke the plain of the goal line" as they say in football. In literal agony from his fractured leg, Treadwell could not hang on to the football, which bobbled into the in-zone as another Auburn defender fell on it. The play was initially ruled a touchdown. Ole Miss would go up 37-35 before the extra-point attempt. They would become the Number Three team in the country. But, that is not what happened.
As the Ole Miss trainers assisted a visibly hurting and shaken Treadwell on a cart from the field the play was under video review, as is the way of SEC football. Since the football did not "break the plain" until after it was fumbled by Treadwell, and since Auburn recovered in the in-zone, the touchdown and possible victory and major step toward a national championship all evaporated into the cold night air.
It was a touchback. Auburn ran out the clock. Auburn wins. Ole Miss will drop out of the Top Four now and, in addition, they have lost their most talented receiver for the rest of the season. Agony upon agony. My post immediately before this one, on Madison Bumgarner, is an example of the "the thrill of victory." This is its antithesis.
I don't recall seeing a team twice fumble the football on their last two offensive drives late in the fourth quarter inside the three yard line - where either time a score could have given them victory. I certainly don't recall seeing it happen in such a big game. I am glad I am not an Ole Miss fan this morning because it feels bad enough to me just being a bystander acquiring a new sense of the agony of defeat.
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