MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Despite six Memphis mistakes and an early three-touchdown lead, Mississippi had to hold on to beat the Tigers. Only after a two-point conversion attempt fell to the ground with less than a minute left could the Rebels enjoy a 23-21 victory over Memphis in the season opener for both schools on Saturday. Martin Hankins connected with Duke Calhoun on an 8-yard touchdown to pull Memphis within two points with 31 seconds left. But Hankins' pass on the ensuing point after was incomplete as Ole Miss (1-0) won its third straight in the series that dates to 1921. Rebel coach Ed Orgeron has never lost to the Tigers.
"We were really hanging on there, but our guys believed," a perspiring Orgeron said. "...We didn't play well down the stretch. We just didn't make the plays we were supposed to. But we were able to make the play at the end." Dustin Mouzon returned one of his two interceptions 99 yards for a touchdown and Seth Adams, making his first start at quarterback for the Rebels, threw for 201 yards and another touchdown. Hankins finished with 343 yards on 41-of-60 passing, all three were personal records for the senior, and the 41 completions set a school record, but he also had four interceptions. Mouzon's scoring return late in the first half was one of two Rebels' touchdowns off Memphis mistakes. The Rebels' special teams got on the board in the first half when they blocked a Memphis punt and recovered the loose ball in the end zone. "I think they were game changing moments," Orgeron said of the plays, adding that Mouzon's interception return from deep in Rebel territory shifted the momentum. "We flipped the field," he said, "and got a touchdown when (Memphis) had a chance to score."
Neither team looked particularly sharp as Memphis (0-1) committed five turnovers and the Rebels had three fumbles. The difference was the Rebels capitalized on Memphis mistakes, and the Tigers squandered their opportunities, usually by committing their own turnovers. Besides the interception return, the blocked punt and the rest of the turnovers, Memphis missed a 25-yard field goal in the first half. "The only way this game could have gotten out of hand was for one team to really botch it up and turn it over," Memphis coach Tommy West said. "We did that, and it still turned out to be a close game. That's a positive sign to me." Ole Miss led 20-0 at the half thanks to gifts by the Tigers. Adams completed his first seven passes, one of them a 16-yard scoring toss to Greg Hardy on the first Ole Miss possession - an 11-play, 92-yard march, the longest scoring drive of the game. Mouzon was providing the defensive strength for Ole Miss, intercepting Hankins twice and recovering a fumble. On the second interception, Mouzon stepped in front of Calhoun near the end zone, and sprinted down the left sideline for a touchdown late in the half.