Fight to the finish: LSU rallies past Ole Miss in finale

Scooter Hobbs

BATON ROUGE — The most delicate way to put it was that LSU’s defense was “opportunistic” on a miserablly wet and chilly Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

To the very end.

But the few hardy and soaked souls who braved the elements would have sworn LSU freshman receiver Kayshon Boutte capped a record-breaking night with one big mistake.

For all the world it looked like his game-winning 45-yard touchdown catch-and-run came too soon — with 1:34 still play.

It had to be way too much time the way the Rebels were slashing the Tigers.

But the much-maligned LSU defense had just gotten a rare stop to set it up, and got one last turnover to finish it. Jacoby Stevens recovered a fumble at LSUs’s 27-yard line ­— LSU sixth take-away of the night —that preserved a wild 53-48 victory over the Rebels.

“What a tremendous job of grit and determination,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said.

Or something like that.

It wasn’t always any prettier than the weather.

“It was a long, cold one,” said LSU linebacker, who transferred to the Tigers from North Dakota State.

But finishing with a second straight victory salvaged a break-even season for the 5-5 Tigers and allowed them to avoid becoming the first team to follow national championship with a losing record since World War II.

“We fought through adversity, obviously,” Orgeron said. “We stayed with each other and those guys who chose not to opt out and to finish, I’m very proud of them.”

Nothing came easy, particularly after Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral got his fifth interception of the game out of the way early in the second half and the Rebels scored touchdowns their next four possessions while the Tigers were wasting a lot of their own 593 yards ot offense by settling for a pair of field goals in the third quarter.

LSU, which led by 16 early in the second half, suddenly trailed 48-40 with 8:43 to play.

The Tigers cut it to 48-46 after mis-firing on a 2-point conversion following freshman quarterback Max Johnson 1-yard scoring run with 5:31 to play.

The Tigers’ defense, which gave up 558 yards, had to come up with a stop.

Or a turnover.

First came the unlikely stop when Neil Farrell sacked Corral on third-and-12 to force a rare punt.

Johnson needed only three plays for the freshman-to-freshman hookup with Boutte, who hauled in his 14th catch of the night and broke several tackles on the last of his SEC-record 308 yards for the lead. It was Boutte’s third touchdown of the night — he also scored from 32 and 18 yards — and the yardage broke the conference record of 298 for an SEC game set by LSU’s Josh Reed in 2001 against Alabama.

“I was hurting before the play,” Boutte said. “I had twisted my ankle … but I was like, “This is tough game. I can’t quit now.’ It’s like the game is in your hands.”

Johnson had to bounce back from an end zone interception that looked to be the game’s key play until the Tigers mounted the final drive.

“He’s got ice in his veins,” Orgeron said of Johnson. “He matured a lot tonight.”

“I made a mistake,” said Johnson, who threw for 435 yards while completing 27 of 51 passes. “You have to look forward and not worry about the past.”

But there was plenty of time for the Rebels to come with the kind of answers they’d had all night with Corral, who ran for 158 yards to go with his 251 yards in the air.

“They were picking on our young corners,” Orgeron said.

And with just five plays, the Rebels were well into LSU territory again.

“Coach Bo (Pelini, the defensive coordinator) just told us to keep coming,” Cox said. “The turnover was coming. He was getting us mentally prepared to battle.

“We kenew he was going to give the ball up, we just didn’t know when. When knew he had trouble keeping th ball.”

“We knew he was going to give the ball to us,” said Stevens. “When plays were there to be made, we just had to make them.”

Stevens made the game-saver after freshman Ali Gaye dislodged it from Corral.

“I know we gave up some stuff, but in the end we came through,” Stevens said.

It was Orgeron’s first head-to-head meeting with his old friend, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin.

“This is a tough one to handle,” admitted Kiffin, who finished 4-5 in his first season at Ole Miss. “Tiger Stadium, defending champs, and we had them on the ropes. We make two first downs (before the late sack), we win the game.

“You’re not always going to get opportunities like that, (LSU) opt-outs, COVID, and an almost empty Tiger Stadium isn’t going to happen again. We’re just really frustrated.”LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte (1) reacts after making a touchdown against Mississippi during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Matthew Hinton

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