Easy as Eli
Manning leads Rebels over Cowboys 31-28 in Cotton Bowl
Posted: Friday January 2, 2004 6:22PM; Updated: Friday January 2, 2004 8:32PM
DALLAS (AP) -- Eli Manning stayed another year at Mississippi in hopes of a season just like this: 10 wins and a January victory.
Manning threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score in his final game for Ole Miss, leading the No. 16 Rebels to a 31-28 victory over No. 21 Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl on Friday.
"Everything about this year has been great. It's been a great run ... it's been a fun ride," said Manning, who completed 22 of 31 passes. "It has to end sometime. We picked a great way to end it."
Not ready for the college experience to end, Manning decided against early entry into the NFL draft last spring. Already considered a top prospect, he only increased his stock with a standout senior season.
Manning threw for 3,600 yards and 29 touchdowns this season, led the Rebels to their first 10-win season since 1971. He also led Ole Miss' first January victory since the 1970 Sugar Bowl when his father, Archie, threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score in a 27-22 win over Arkansas.
"This raises the bar for us," coach David Cutcliffe said.
Ole Miss' only other January games since that Sugar Bowl had been in the Gator Bowl. The Rebels lost to Auburn in Archie Manning's final game in 1971 and to Michigan in 1991.
"When I came to Ole Miss, everyone expected me to bring the program back to its glory days," Eli Manning said. "I didn't want to put that kind of pressure on myself."
Still, he finished with a school-record 10,119 yards, becoming only the fifth Southeastern Conference passer with 10,000 yards. That is 1,082 less than the SEC record held by older brother Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback and the NFL's co-MVP who played at Tennessee from 1994-97.
Manning's 1-yard keeper with 12:32 left capped a 13-play, 97-yard drive, and ended a streak of 24 straight points by Ole Miss which provided just enough to overcome the Cowboys (9-4).
"I just sat there watching him, thinking Eli Manning is a bad boy," said Oklahoma State receiver Rashaun Woods, who set Cotton Bowl records with 11 catches for 223 yards.
And Woods meant that as a compliment.
On the long drive, Manning converted third-and-13 and third-and-12 plays with passes of more than 20 yards.
Woods caught a 17-yard TD pass to get Oklahoma State to 31-28 with 4:38 left, just four minutes after Vernand Morency's second touchdown run.
On the 72-yard drive that ended with Morency's second TD, he caught two passes for 63 yards -- both on plays when cornerback Travis Johnson was called for pass interference and still couldn't prevent the catches.
"My job is to go out there and make plays for my team," Woods said. "As far as how they played me, that doesn't concern me. I'm just here to make plays."
But the Cowboys never got the ball back after his leaping TD catch over another defender.
Tremaine Turner's 25-yard run on third-and-5 from midfield with 2:43 left was the clincher. Turner finished with 133 yards on 20 carries.
Oklahoma State had just called its last timeout, and the Rebels were able to run out the clock. Ole Miss also benefited when All-Big 12 cornerback Darrent Williams was called for pass interference on third-and-10.
"It was one of those games where we felt like we just ran out of time," OSU coach Les Miles said.
The Cowboys played in January for the first time since 1949. They have improved in all three seasons under Miles: from 4-7 in 2001 to 8-5 and now just one win short of their first 10-win season since 1988.
Oklahoma State's Josh Fields set a Cotton Bowl record with 307 yards on 21-of-33 passing. The junior's touchdown pass gave him 55 in his career, breaking the school record set by offensive coordinator Mike Gundy (1986-89).
Turner caught Manning's first TD pass, and his 2-yard TD run opened the second-half scoring.
After Jon Holland intercepted Manning's pass on the final play of the first quarter and returned it to the Ole Miss 44, Tatum Bell scored on a 3-yard run for a 14-7 lead.
Ole Miss then scored on four straight series, and Oklahoma State didn't score again until the fourth quarter.
The Rebels tied it at 14 when Manning threw a 25-yard TD pass to Mike Espy in the middle of the field. Manning's 16-yard TD pass to Turner gave Ole Miss a 7-0 lead.
Oklahoma State tied it on Morency's 4-yard TD run. He had three straight runs after a fake field goal on which holder Sky Ryland ran for 4 yards on fourth-and-3 from the 26.
After the game was tied at 14, the Cowboys had fourth-and-4 at the Ole Miss 30 when Fields was sacked by Josh Cooper for a 9-yard loss. The Rebels then set up Jonathan Nichols' 34-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the half to go ahead to stay.
The bowl was sponsored by SBC.