NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- A retirement gift 16 years in the making.
In Don Nehlen's final game as coach, West Virginia broke an eight-game postseason losing streak, dominating the first half en route to a 49-38 Music City Bowl victory over Mississippi at Adelphia Coliseum.
Behind an efficient Brad Lewis, who threw four of his career-high five touchdown passes in the opening 26 minutes, the Mountaineers sent Nehlen into life after football with his 202nd career victory.
"I was going to sleep win, lose or draw, but I'll probably sleep better since we won," Nehlen said. "That's for sure. Of course it's always a lot more fun to win than lose. That's obvious."
The winningest coach in West Virginia history, Nehlen announced in November that his 21st season with the Mountaineers would be his last and the curtain came down today with a performance worthy of a standing ovation.
Nehlen, who also coached nine seasons at Bowling Green, finished with a 202-128-8 record in a career that was slightly tarnished by West Virginia's failure in bowl games.
"Like I say, we've never played poorly in a bowl," Nehlen said. "We've just never won any of the doggone things and for a change we finally won one."
The Mountaineers' last postseason victory was a 31-14 win over Texas Christian in the defunct Bluebonnet Bowl on New Year's Eve 1984. The skid included a national championship game loss to Notre Dame in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl.
Although the Rebels (7-5) scored some late points behind freshman Eli Manning, the younger brother of Peyton and the son of Archie, this one was never in doubt as West Virginia (7-5) put on an early offensive show.
"The first thing I want to do is congratulate Don Nehlen, his staff and the West Virginia team," said Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe. "They were extremely well-prepared. I knew going in and said all along, he's an outstanding football coach with a good staff and an outstanding team."
The Mountaineers needed just 17 plays to score their first five touchdowns and led 35-9 with 2:04 remaining in the first half after a one-yard TD run by Wes Ours, who opened the game by hauling in a 40-yard touchdown reception.
In the opening half, Lewis threw a pair of touchdown passes to Antonio Brown and another to Khori Ivy. The junior signal-caller hooked up with Ivy again in the third quarter for a 49-9 lead.
"We knew that coming into this game Ole Miss played man-to-man and we knew that with Khori Ivy, Antonio Brown and our tight ends, that they couldn't match up with our speed," said Lewis.
West Virginia receiver Shawn Terry began the second half with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Lewis completed 14-of-20 passes for 318 yards to earn game Most Valuable Player honors.
In relief of Romaro Miller, Manning threw three touchdown passes in a 6 1/2-minute span of the third quarter but a late interception with a little over three minutes remaining ended the Rebels' hope of a miracle comeback.
Miller was 14-of-30 for 200 yards with two interceptions, while Manning completed 12-of-19 attempts for 168 yards without being intercepted.
"I wasn't initially trying to make a big comeback," said Manning. "And once we got close I just couldn't finish it off. I wish I could have back that pass that was intercepted."
Mississippi had its four-game bowl winning streak snapped, losing in the postseason for the first time since 1991.