Photo courtesy of Ole Miss athletics
From the early-1950s to the early-1970s, Ole Miss was a force to be reckoned with. From 1972 to 1985, however, the Rebels had taken a significant step back.
Over that stretch, the Rebels never lost fewer than five games in any season. Despite its struggles, Ole Miss was not to be taken lightly.
No. 3 Notre Dame learned that firsthand on this day 45 years ago as the Rebels scored the final 10 points to pull off the 20-13 upset.
Setting the Stage
In its fourth season under head coach Ken Cooper, Ole Miss was 1-1 as it arrived at Mississippi Memorial Stadium on Sept. 17, 1977. At the time, Ole Miss played most of its big games in Jackson. The Rebels opened the year with a win over Memphis before being handled by No. 6 Alabama.
Notre Dame was ranked No. 3 in the country and arrived as a 3-touchdown favorite — and for good reason. After finishing 9-3 in 1976, the Fighting Irish opened the year with an impressive 19-9 road win at No. 7 Pittsburgh. From the second quarter on, however, it was clear that Ole Miss wasn’t going to roll over.
Storey is the Story
For three quarters, the teams had combined for just two touchdowns. James Storey’s 10-yard reception from Bobby Garner had given the Rebels a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. After three, that lead stood.
A pair of field goals from Dave Reeve, however, put the Irish back in front with less than five minutes to go, 13-10. With Garner beaten up and hydrated, Ole Miss turned to Jeff Ellis at quarterback.
Ellis didn’t disappoint.
A key play on what would be the decisive drive was a 48-yard strike from Ellis to tight E.Q. Smith — his only catch of the season. After a 12-yard run from Storey put the ball on the 10-yard-line of Notre Dame, Ellis looked in his direction yet again.
On a roll-out pass, Ellis’ throw was behind Storey, but it didn’t matter. Not known for his hands, Storey reached back and snared it using only his right hand before walking in for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:13 left.
Following a fumble from Notre Dame’s Jerome Heavens, who scored the game’s first touchdown, Ole Miss tacked on a short field goal to push the lead to seven. The Rebels’ defense did the rest and the upset was complete.
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With the victory, Ole Miss improved to 2-1 but it was hardly the beginning of any great reversal of fortunes. That was the last time that the Rebels held a winning record that season. After a 5-6 finish, Cooper was fired as head coach.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, wouldn’t lose again. The Fighting Irish won their final 10 games and claimed the national championship after crushing No. 5 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
The lone blemish from a national championship season came from an unlikely foe in Ole Miss in Jackson. It came on this day 45 years ago.