“Oh it feels good, you get to sleep in and you can tease with the guys that have to get up and clean the stadium,” the junior defensive tackle said after his Maroon team topped the Whites 23-20 in this year’s edition of the annual April football festival. It certainly felt great for the Maroons when fullback Sylvester Hemphill picked his way through traffic from two yards out to score the winning touchdown with just 1:19 left.
Those six points—reserve kicker Charlie Granfield’s PAT try banged awry off the left upright—completed a clutch drive directed by backup quarterback Dylan Favre. The second-spring freshman had put his team in position to lead or at least tie a series before with a drive well into the White red zone, only to have an unlisted defensive back (#31) pick the pass at the goal line.
But when the Maroons could not maintain possession with the running-clock quarter winding down Favre’s side got another chance. Whether scrambling for good gains or hitting open targets, such as a 26-yarder to WR/TE Malcolm Johnson that sped up the drive. Two rushes and an incompletion might have tempted the Whites to play for a tie, but on that missed pass S Louis Watson was called for interference. Spotted at the two-yard line, Hemphill did the rest.
The Maroons didn’t muster much of a last chance as QB Dak Prescott was sacked on first down and his fourth-down throw missed everyone at 19 seconds.
Had Coach Dan Mullen tried to script things, the spring game couldn’t have played out in much more entertaining manner. “Yeah, it was great to come down to that situation,” Mullen said.
Even the set-up to such a situation kept the crowd, officially announced at 36,000-plus, involved. The Whites had taken their first and only lead, 20-17, with one second left in the third quarter as TB Adrian Marcus bulled through from a yard out. The scoring play was set up by backup QB Tyler Russell’s sharp drive, including a bullet-strike that WR Arceto Clark had to elevate greatly for and land on the half-yard line.
But that just set the stage for his challenger at #2 quarterback. The last time Favre produced a late-chance rally? “Probably my junior year in high school, I don’t really know,” he said. For the day Favre, who took care of about three full quarters, was 17-of-26 passing for 199 yards. One of his throws was a touchdown, a 24-yard toss to WR Robert Johnson in the second period; and one was picked, credited to S Johnthan Banks though he wore #13.
Russell wasn’t shabby himself, 15-of-26 for 210 yards with an interception. That was by LB Deonte Skinner on the first throw of the third quarter. Russell did produce a touchdown pass, too, of 14 yards to WR Malcolm Johnson in the second quarter.
Though he only saw the field for a few series, though, it was Chris Relf setting the standard. The starting quarterback made things clear on his first drive of the day, hitting all three throws with completions of 25 yards (WR Brandon Heavens) and eight and eleven more (WR Sam Williams). After #1 TB Vick Ballard carried for gaines of nine, eight, and five yards, Relf recovered a bobbled snap at the goal line and broke the plane for the first Maroon touchdown.
OG Quentin Saulsberry wasn’t. But if he doesn’t relish the prospect of reporting to the stadium Sunday morning with trash bag in hand, the starting guard/center managed to enjoy the show anyway. “It’s fun to see guys get better. That’s what you strive to do, get better each and every day.”
Folk in the stands, or tuned in for the CSS telecast and/or MSU broadcast, had to think better of the Bulldog offense after some of the other numbers posted. In fact Favre was the day’s leading rusher with 41 net yards on ten totes, not all of them scrambles. Marcus led the Whites with 33 yards on 10 runs and in a brief stint TB LaDarius Perkins added nine on five rushes. Much like in a real game receivers got their hands on handoffs and pitches as much as they did passes. Wideout Robert Johnson had 19 yards on three carries for example, and #1 WR Chad Bumphis got six on his single tote.
Bumphis also caught a team-best six balls for the Whites with 48 yards. The longer connections went to WR Ricco Sanders though, 96 yards on four Russell completions. Clark was four for 52 as well. R.Johnson paced the Maroon receivers with no less than seven receptions and 74 yards, while Heavens had 62 yards on five grabs and redshirt TE Brandon Hill 74 on four balls of his own.
As impressive or maybe more was the kicking. Dared in the first quarter to convert from 54 yards away, PK Derek DePasquale slipped it just over the crossbar. He would knock a 47-yarder through later, a distance matched by Brian Egan of the Maroon team. Soph Baker Swedenburg hit some huge punts, such as a 63-yarder, and averaged 50.3 on his three kicks. Kicker/DB Josh Morris averaged 41.2 on his four punts. Never mind that kickers and punters were not rushed, nor were balls returned under spring game rules.
“It seemed everybody clicked today,” DePasquale said. “It was a good show.”
Backup LB Ferlando Bohanna put on some show, too, with a game-best eight tackles including two sacks. It seemed every time Russell went down, Bohanna was involved. Five total sacks by the Maroons showed why Russell had to hurry too many throws for consistency’s sake. The Whites managed a single sack, a combined bagging by DT Jeff Howie and DE Devin Jones of Favre in the first half. MLB Brandon Wilson and S Dennis Thames had five stops each for the Whites.
Since the rosters were drafted for balance, and most regulars were watching from sideline safety well before halftime, the relative efficiency of units from then on was as encouraging for team development as entertaining to fans. “I think it went very well,” said Saulsberry. “A lot of guys got exposed to being on the field in front of the crowd. That was good for them to get loose, not be so stiff and know what the game is all about.”
Then again this game was mostly about having some spring fun after another intensive camp. In that regard Mullen thought everybody was a winner.
“Yeah, we had a great crowd, a great turnout, an exciting atmosphere on campus. We got to see a lot of guys that hadn’t played in this environment before out here and being exposed to playing under some pressure.”
The full team has one more working day of spring. Mullen reserved the 15th and final allowed practice for after the Maroon-White match. So come Monday the Bulldogs will get to remember what was done or not-done over the weekend.
“We’ll go in Monday and watch this and practice and clean a whole lot of things up,” Cox said. “What you should have done, if you’d done this then this would have happened.” Easy for Cox to say now. He’ll be lazing tomorrow morning while Saulsberry and company clean the house. Cox and Maroon club won’t make too big a deal of it…too much.
“Well, we joke around to mess with the guys. But we’re a team. And we put on a show for the crowd.”
SPRING GAME NOTES: Official attendance for this Maroon-White game was announced at 36,357 the largest crowd ever to see a spring game here. Of course admission was free and no counters were at any gates, so it was an estimate made by athletic department officials.
Whatever the actual total in the stadium, the digits coincidentally served to remind and thus honor the memory of #36 Nick Bell after his tragic fall passing to brain cancer.
*Mississippi State announced the first four Bulldog greats to be recognized on a University Ring of Honor at halftime. Back Jackie Parker, considered by most long-time observers the greatest Bulldog player ever was joined by all-time great linebackers D.D. Lewis and Johnie Cooks in the initial class. The quartet was rounded out by a man who never wore a MSU uniform; for that matter did not even attend the University.
But it was entirely fitting for legendary Voice of the Bulldogs Jack Cristil to be included with the finest football players in program annals, after his 58-season career broadcasting State games. Cristil retired for health reasons in February.
*As part of pre-game entertainment the video board showed the first quarter or so of State’s New Years Day romp over Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Closer to game time content changed as all three videos made this spring about a purported ‘day in the life of the Golden Egg’ were aired. They included one of the Egg begin taken to have the winning 2010 score of 31-23 engraved, by lineman Quentin Saulsberry. He made sure to buckle-the Egg up, too.
Another showed being introduced to and smitten by the Gator Bowl trophy and their ‘dates’ around town and campus. The third was of the Egg going through off-season workouts prior to spring training.
The Golden Egg was carried out on the field by Bully, but excused from participation.
*Injured Bulldogs not playing Saturday included TE Marcus Green (spring knee rehab), TE Kendrick Cook (back), OG Tobias Smith (spring shoulder rehab), OC Sam Watts (spring ankle rehab), OG Gabe Jackson (knee), TB Nick Griffin (knee surgery), S Nickoe Whitley (knee sprain), CB Jamerson Love (hand),