A two-yard touchdown dive by QB Dak Prescott gave the Bulldogs a 17-10 lead; and a strip of Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace recovered in the end zone by CB Jamerson Love made it the margin of Mississippi State victory. With their win, Coach Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs ended the regular season 6-6, 3-5 SEC, and secured a post-season berth to be determined.
They won’t mind the wait, not after scoring the win which matters most. “You just don’t want to lose the Egg Bowl,” CB Taveze Calhoun said. “You want to win every game but this game is on another level.”
The Rebels left Scott Field 7-5, 3-5 and awaiting their own holiday destination. But they also left without the Golden Egg. It was paraded around the home field for many manic minutes before Mullen could formally return it to the ceremonial keeping of president Dr. Mark Keenum in the still-electric locker room. It was Mullen’s fourth victory in five Egg Bowls.
It also might have been his most emotional for reasons on, off, and even around the field of play.
“We found a way to win the game,” Mullen said. “We found a way to win and that’s what is most important. An unbelievable job. Our fans, everything, getting this trophy back home where it belongs is a special, special deal.”
What Mississippi State really found was a combination of the right defense and when everything hung in the balance the right quarterback. Not that Prescott wasn’t the triggerman every Dog hoped would be directing the show. But the ‘burner’ nerve injury suffered three games ago at Texas A&M had sidelined him two entire contests. For that matter Prescott barely practiced this short week in advance of Thursday’s rivalry game.
Prescott warmed-up but spent three whole quarters and part of a fourth before the summons came. “We discussed it in the beginning of the game, and the situation,” he said. “How to play and when he would let me play.”
When was at 11:15 of the final period with State trailing 10-7 and out of any offensive synch. Mullen admitted he didn’t really think the sophomore would even play. But Dr. Alan Sills, who’d been treating the damaged nerve, gave the clearance in time for warmups.
“I turned to him there in the fourth quarter and said do you want to go?” Mullen said. “He said just put me in.”
The first series didn’t last long, only four plays before a punt. The second, at 7:08, went better. Prescott hadn’t enjoyed watching for so long, but he put it to good use. “I’d seen all the defenses they were throwing at Damian (Williams). When I went out there they didn’t do anything they hadn’t thrown at him. That helped out a lot.”
Prescott completed half the ten passes he threw in the pivotal series, and ran a couple more times to get the ball at Ole Miss’ 19 yard line. That was good enough for PK Evan Sobiesk to tie it up on a 36-yard field goal from the left hashes, at 2:21. A three-and-out forced by the Dog defense offered opportunity to win in regulation as well, as Prescott directed a ten-play drive reaching the 21. It included a clutch 4th-and-11 completion to WR De’Runnya Wilson, to the Rebel 25; which meant State could run down the clock before kicking.
Sobiesk, booting from dead-center, pushed his 39-yard try wide to the right. But Prescott’s drive meant Ole Miss wouldn’t have a chance in regulation either. “They still had timeouts left and we would have been giving them the ball and they’ve got a kicker with a cannon of a leg, not far out,” Mullen said.
No State-Ole Miss game had ever required overtime to settle. But after beating Arkansas last week in overtime the Bulldogs weren’t worried. They welcomed it even, according to Prescott. “I mean, we just got another chance to go play football. We were going to do it against the team we hate.”
And getting first turn with the football also followed last week’s suit. The Dogs didn’t score on the first snap, as freshman Williams had against the Razorbacks. But it was still a quarterback getting it done against these Rebels. Even a false-start penalty didn’t derail the six-snap series, as on 3rd-and-15 Prescott hit WR Jameon Lewis for 14 yards. With fourth-and-1 at the three yard line there was no thought of kicking.
There was thought of something besides running the quarterback, but the play clock was running and State had to talk it over. Fortunately so. “The original call was a pass or something like that,” Prescott said. “It was two yards and I said Coach, I’ve got Gabe (Jackson) up front, just let me get behind him and go. It’s two yards, I can get it. And he said let’s do it.”
Prescott did start in Jackson’s left guard-direction but altered course enough to crash through center for first down, touchdown, and the 17-10 lead.
Ole Miss looked ready to score themselves and in similar fashion as Wallace called his own number on first down at the 10-yard line. Nobody was between him and the goal, but FS Nickoe Whitley was to one side and reached…and stripped, as the ball bounced into the end zone. Love got to it first to end the game and start the celebration.
“We left it all on the field and we were able to get a win,” Calhoun said.
The victory needn’t have been nearly so dramatic had the home team taken better advantage of first-half opportunities. With rookie Williams making his first college start, in the biggest of Bulldog games, State kept the offense simple as possible. It was up to the defense to set a tone, and they did. The explosive Rebel offense, which all season has been at its best in first halves, had just 11:12 possession time, 33 snaps, and no points. Not by the offense that is, as Wallace was intercepted three times against nine completions.
A season ago Wallace riddled State with arm and feet in a Rebel win in Oxford. This Dog defense applied those lessons and took him mostly out of his favored game. “We got in his head,” LB Richie Brown said. “We tried to disguise and not let them know what we were doing, explode on him and try to get him on the ground.”
The third interception, by CB Justin Cox at the 30-yard line, set up State’s only touchdown of regulation. Williams had been struggling with his throwing but ran for 29 yards on three-straight totes. With first-and-goal at the half-yard line after a Rebel unsportsmanlike penalty, RB Josh Robinson blew threw left guard for a 7-0 lead at 1:36.
The advantage didn’t get to halftime, but not for any defensive fault as they forced a fast punt. But Lewis chose to catch the line-drive at the seven-yard line rather than let it go into the end zone. Ole Miss had all three timeouts and used them as Williams lost five yards on three keepers. P Baker Swedenburg bobbled the snap, tried to get it off and had his punt blocked by Collins Moore and recovered for the tying touchdown by Terrell Grant.
Ole Miss also had first turn of the last half and went on a 81-yard drive that finally ended at State’s five-yard line, as Whitley and Brown combined to stop Wallace short of the sticks. Andrew Ritter had doinked a first-quarter field goal off the left upright in the first quarter, which loomed a lot larger later. This one he hit, from 22 yards for the 10-7 lead.
But six more second-half series netted no more points. And while State wasn’t scoring either, going three-and-through three-straight times, a three-point deficit was…not exactly comfortable but acceptable. And, reason to give Prescott his long-awaited call after Williams forced a 2nd-and-18 throw intercepted at the five-yard line by Cody Prewitt.
“After that turnover I got antsy and needed to get out there,” Prescott said. State certainly needed him, and his presence clearly put the Rebels on their heels. Or wrong foot even. In little over half a quarter and an OT series, Prescott was 11-of-20 passing for 115 yards and rushed for 29 more yards with the winning touchdown. Wallace mustered 182 yards the entire game on 26 completions out of 40 throws, and was sacked twice.
Calhoun, the team tackles leader with 11, credited coordinator Geoff Collins wanting to play ‘slap’ all game. “Slap defense is just bringing feel-pressure, and more like a cover-three and like a zone. We were trying to mix up and give different looks and try to confuse the quarterback. And we did a good job of that.”
But as the gains-per-catches showed there was more to it. Wallace was close to carving-up the defense in that third quarter with quick outs and bubble screens, but nothing broke too far.
“The goal of the game was just tackle,” Brown said. “They might get a first down or something might happen, but we’re going to make the big play and we’re going to make the big stop. We believed that, if they got a big drive going we say shut ‘em down and make a big play, put the ball on the ground and let’s go.”
With Williams completing 8-of-18 for 82 yards the passing totals were almost identical, 201 yards for Ole Miss and 197 for State. The Rebels rushed a bit better, 117 to 99 net, giving them a final edge in total gains. But the Bulldogs maintained a little more possession time, allowed no play longer than 22 yards, and came away with four turnovers…including the game-clincher.
“That’s a great job by our defense holding them to three points,” Brown said. “It was the mindset we had.”
But it was the pure heart shown by Prescott which tipped the balance, when his participation was entirely uncertain up to game time. “It’s hard to believe there wasn’t any divine intervention out there on that field today,” Mullen said.
While the Rebels left feeling hellish, the Bulldogs did feel heavenly about having qualified for bowl season with consecutive overtime victories. Prescott made sure he helped injured senior QB Tyler Russell hold up the Golden Egg despite a separated shoulder. “He’s in the first class to go to a bowl game four years in a row,” Prescott said.
The entire team knew who deserved to tote the Egg, though, after Prescott carried Mississippi State to its latest epic Egg Bowl triumph. “It did give us a lift,” Calhoun said. “And I was totally confident in him because I knew he would make a play.”