- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2009

From combined dispatches

COTTON

No. 20 OLE MISS 47, No. 8 TEXAS TECH 34: There were backflips across midfield, 50-yard dashes carrying oversized flags and a team-wide sprint to the student section. Ole Miss waited five years to feel this good and the Rebels (9-4) were going to enjoy every second of it.

A season of revival that already included an upset at Florida culminated Friday with a victory against the Red Raiders (11-2) in Dallas, sending No. 20 Mississippi into the offseason with a six-game winning streak and the anticipation of how coach Houston Nutt will build on his terrific debut year.

“I wish we could keep this team and bring it back,” Nutt said. Then, turning to some seniors next to him, he barked, “You can’t leave!”

Seconds later, he was so giddy that he told Cotton Bowl officials, “We’ll make the announcement we’ll come back next year, right now. Let’s go!”

To understand the excitement, appreciate how far this program has come: from 3-8 last season, winless in the SEC and bowl-less since 2003 (when Eli Manning was a senior) to 9-4 and likely to grab a season-ending ranking in the teens.

Better still, the surge to this warm-fuzzy finish began when the Rebels were 3-4 and smarting from consecutive losses after their road upset of then-No. 4 Florida.

“Togetherness. That’s something we haven’t had in the past couple of years,” said Dexter McCluster, a 5-foot-8 bundle of moves and speed who ran 14 times for 97 yards and a touchdown, and caught six passes for 83 yards. “Coach Nutt came in … and got us on the right track and got us to believe. ‘One heartbeat’ has been something we’ve been stressing all year. We never gave up on that.”

Although two All-American linemen and a big-play receiver are headed for the NFL, the program seems to be in good hands. The stars of this game - McCluster, quarterback Jevan Snead, and cornerback-punt returner Marshay Green - are all coming back.

SUGAR

No. 7 UTAH 31, No. 4 ALABAMA 17: Utah is the best of the BCS busters.

Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns, and the Utes upset the Crimson Tide (12-2) in New Orleans to finish 13-0.

With the victory, Utah became the first team from a non-BCS conference to win two BCS bowls.

Johnson’s pinpoint passing led Utah to a 21-0 first-quarter lead and the Utes refused to wilt when Alabama pulled to 21-17 early in the second half.

Utah’s defense was equally impressive, intercepting John Parker Wilson twice and sacking him eight times, with the seventh sack forcing a fumble that sent crimson-clad Alabama fans streaming for the exits with just more than five minutes to go.

LIBERTY

KENTUCKY 25, EAST CAROLINA 19: Ventrell Jenkins scooped up a fumble and barreled his 285-pound frame 56 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, helping the Wildcats (7-6) win a program-best third straight bowl game with a victory against the Pirates (9-5) in Memphis, Tenn.

Kentucky never led until the fourth quarter, when Myron Pryor forced a fumble with about three minutes left. In the scramble for the loose ball, Jenkins came up with it and rumbled down the right sideline untouched for the touchdown.

Lones Seiber’s extra point attempt was blocked - the third blocked extra point of the game and second off Seiber’s foot.

That gave East Carolina plenty of time to drive for the win, but the ensuing kickoff was downed at the 1. The Pirates wound up punting four plays later, and Kentucky picked up a first down before running out the clock.

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