For the second year in row the Ole Miss Rebels claimed the Championship in Division I (Grades 7-8) of the Hillsborough Jr. Raiders football program. It was a thrilling, hard fought game that saw Ole Miss hold off a late Michigan rally for a 13-12 victory on Saturday, November 3rd.
Ole Miss took an early lead when they drove down the field on their first possession of the game. The Rebels offense mixed the power running of FB Michael Kaufman with the outside quickness of Kieere Mayer, and the play action passes of QB Matt Moore to wide out Mike Wardell. The drive covered 70 yards and was capped by Mayer’s 5-yard run for an early 6-0 lead. The extra point pass to Ben Versaci was broken up.
The defenses then took over the game with both in the bend but don’t break mode. The teams moved the ball in the middle of the field, but the defenses rose to the occasion on several key plays preventing first downs. The Rebel Defense, led by tackles Kyle Richardson, Jakob Harmon and Michael Surace, came up with several big plays to stop Michigan drives. Ole Miss took the slim 6-0 lead, and headed to the locker room as the first half ended.
Michigan received the 2nd half kickoff and put together a long drive, which included two 4th down conversions. The drive ended with a short Jordan Faust run for a touchdown, to tie the game at 6-6. The extra point try for the lead was intercepted by Cornerback Mark Kwiatek, who led the league in picks this year.
The Ole Miss offense continued to pound the middle of the Michigan defense with short gains, as the 3rd quarter ended still tied. On the first play of the 4th quarter Ole Miss ran the power sweep with Kieere Mayer. Behind pulling guards Collin Purdy and P. J. Catalano, Mayer sprinted 65 yards for the go ahead touchdown. Coach Russ Surace called out “same play”, as Mayer converted the extra point and Ole Miss took a 13-6 lead.
It looked like Michigan would come right back on the kickoff but Alex Dimitrov-Kuhl’s pursuit cut down the Michigan return man. Michigan was able to get back into the endzone and cut the lead to 13-12. This time the extra point pass fell incomplete, with David Lynch on the coverage.
With time winding down, Ole Miss was forced to punt the ball back to Michigan who would have one last chance. The Rebels defensive coordinator Bob Richardson saved his best trick for last. The Rebels inserted Dominic DiNardi at Linebacker in a 5-3 look. This stopped Michigan from running the scissors play, which had been working for them all day. The first two attempts were stopped by tackles Harmon and Surace. On 3rd down the sweep was stuffed by corner Dale Jules and safety Josh Villa. The game’s outcome came down to one play. The tension mounted as the wind and fans howled. On 4th down LB Michael Kaufman broke through the line and stopped Faust in the backfield. Ole Miss was able to take a knee and run out the clock.
Head coach Russ Surace praised both teams for their efforts, in what he called on of the most dramatic and exciting games of his coaching career. “It was a challenging, but rewarding year”, reflected Surace.