Ole Miss players embrace school’s history with Sugar Bowl _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Mississippi tight end Evan Engram (17) runs after the catch and scores on the play as LSU defensive back Donte Jackson (1), safety John Battle (26), and cornerback Tre'Davious White (18) give chase during the second half Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Oxford, Miss. LSU lost 38-17.

Ole Miss’ first invitation to the Allstate Sugar Bowl in 45 years has been a revelation for many of the Rebels players.

The school’s long absence from the game belies its rich history in the Sugar Bowl. Ole Miss’ game against Oklahoma State on Friday will be its ninth in the Sugar Bowl, tied with Florida and Georgia for the third-most trips to the game. Only Alabama and LSU have made more visits.

The Rebels’ previous trips came in an 18-year span (1953-70) and Ole Miss won five of the eight games, including the 1970 game when Archie Manning led a 27-22 victory against Arkansas.

“Before we got put in this bowl, I never really knew,” Rebels tight end Evan Engram said. “As soon as we did, all the fans were tweeting, and I was reading a lot of stuff about history with Archie Manning leading the team to a win here. It’s very deep in our tradition and this university’s tradition.

“It’s resonated amongst our team just how we saw the response from our fan base and how excited they are to get down to New Orleans and how well our fans travel wherever we go. Definitely, having their support and their excitement for this game for us has definitely put some fire under our butts to make sure we do what we got to do to win.”

Defensive back Mike Hilton said being back in the Sugar Bowl “means everything to (Ole Miss fans).”

“This is like our national championship for the fans,” Hilton said. “Just basing off last year and how that went, it would be great to get a big win in the Sugar Bowl and get that taste out of our mouths.”

“We get to play in one of the greatest venues in college athletics,” coach Hugh Freeze said, “and historically, for Ole Miss, playing in the Sugar Bowl means so much.”

When Archie speaks ...

Engram said the team that ended the Rebels’ Sugar Bowl drought hasn’t heard from the MVP of their last game here — Manning. Not yet anyway.

“I think that would be a good thing for some of our young guys and even for our senior leadership to kind of get his word,” Engram said. “He’s really legendary, a lot of respect for him to hear his side of the story and what he had to do to get it done, I think that would really help our team.”

Familiar field for finale

Cowboys DB Michael Hunter’s college career will end the same place his pee-wee football and high school careers ended — inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The senior from West Monroe was a high school senior when those Rebels lost to Acadiana 21-14 in the state final.

“I can’t even explain it in words,” Hunter was quoted as saying in the Daily Oklahoman. “It’s like a dream come true.”

Hunter began his career at Indiana, redshirting before playing three seasons. After graduating in 2014, he transferred to OSU.

He played in every game this season and started six. He earned the Barry Sanders Award, which is given each year to players who provide the greatest contribution with the least recognition. Hunter had 18 tackles and two interceptions, which helped seal victories against Kansas State and at Texas Tech.

Hunter estimated that more than 20 relatives have booked hotel rooms in New Orleans. Those who can’t get tickets plan to watch from Bourbon Street.

Cowboys seek milestone

Oklahoma State has an opportunity to enhance its standing as one of the elite teams in the Cowboys 102-year history.

If OSU (10-2) beats Ole Miss it will be just the third team in school history to win 11 games. The 2011 team finished 12-1 and the 2010 team was 11-2.

“Only a few Oklahoma State teams have had the opportunity to be here and go against a team like Ole Miss,” Cowboys end Blake Jarwin said, “so to get to 11 is a great achievement in my mind.”