Doubt, despair, anger, anguish, even out-and-out grief have permeated this LSU football season.
But on Saturday night, one epic Saturday night in The Valley, a young, undervalued LSU football team came to everyone’s emotional rescue.
Who would have thought these guys, run over by Mississippi State’s Dak Attack and the victim of arson at Auburn, could come back here and write their own chapter of October glory in LSU’s ancient and bitter rivalry with Ole Miss?
Four turnovers? No problem. Ole Miss-fire on some point-blank scoring opportunities? Why spoil the drama to come of what turned out to be a 10-7 LSU upset of the mighty No. 3-ranked Rebels?
All part of the Les Miles Experience. Then again, this wasn’t like any other game for LSU’s quirky, undervalued coach.
Miles coached this one with a heavy heart. His mother, Martha, passed away Friday night in Baton Rouge at age 91.
Basketball great Karl Malone, whose son K.J. plays on the offensive line, like Miles, tweeted his condolences. So did former LSU defensive lineman Marcus Spears, now with the SEC Network. Miles’ team handed him the game ball afterward in a locker room that had to be absolutely stark, raving bonkers, a venue to match the boiling scene outside as thousands of LSU fans stormed the field.
“Miss you, Mom,” Miles said softly in the hush of the postgame news conference.
Martha Miles’ son then went out and did what her son has done with unbelievable frequency: He navigated his team through a minefield of potentially crippling obstacles to yet another come-from-behind win.
This was the 24th (yes, 24th) fourth-quarter comeback in the Les Miles Decade, the 16th against a Top-25 team. For those scoring at home, this was also the fifth straight year LSU has beaten at least one top-10 opponent.
Ole Miss has been down this trail of tears before against LSU.
It’s a sad and simple truth for the Rebels. Throughout their history, when Ole Miss has had the most on the line, the most to win or the most to lose, it has come up short against the Tigers time and again.
It happened here in 1959, when No. 1 LSU beat No. 3 Ole Miss 7-3. It happened here again in 1961, when LSU rallied to beat an Ole Miss team on the verge of ascending to No. 1, also by a 10-7 count. It happened in Oxford in 2003 when Ole Miss was ready to set sail to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game until LSU overcome its turnovers to stay on track for the BCS national championship with a 17-14 squeaker.
And so it came to pass yet again Saturday night in more than 3½ hours of bare-knuckled, heavyweight brawling.
Billy Cannon was on the field before the game as one of LSU’s guest captains. He earned his place in large part because of his 89-yard punt return to glory against these Rebels 55 Octobers ago.
Two years ago, Odell Beckham Jr. retraced Cannon’s path, weaving 89 yards from south to north with a punt-return touchdown that turned out to be the margin of victory over Ole Miss once again.
This time, the Tigers didn’t need a solo superhero.
They needed, and got, The Drive. And The Stop.
From its 5-yard yard line with 11:06 remaining and trailing by the 1959 score of 7-3, the Tigers began a long slog against an entrenched and formidable defense, the toughest team in the country to score points against.
LSU advanced from its 5 to the Ole Miss 3. After a dozen straight runs, the Tigers faked with just what the Rebels were expecting, a dive into the line by bulldozer Kenny Hilliard. Instead, Anthony Jennings went bootleg to tight end Logan Stokes for the touchdown.
It was the first career catch for Stokes, who played junior college ball at Northeast Mississippi Community College, about 90 minutes from the Ole Miss campus.
Five minutes remained after the kickoff, plenty of time for Ole Miss to strike back. But first Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace was stoned on a quick-snap fourth-and-1 sneak at the LSU 47. Then after an LSU punt, the Rebels swept to the LSU 25 before going for an all-or-nothing pass from the 30 following a delay penalty.
The Tigers waved and missed at three previous chances for interceptions and had another called back by pass interference. This one was secured in Ronald Martin’s waiting hands as he dived to the soon-to-be-trampled turf at the 2-yard line with 2 seconds left.
Martin secured for himself a slice of LSU football immortality.
So did this improbable, young, confounding team.
No telling where they will go from here. But who couldn’t want to watch?
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.