October 21, 2012 1:13:22 AM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Johnthan Banks entered rare territory Saturday.
The senior cornerback from Maben is now tied for the Mississippi State University record with 16 career interceptions.
Banks, a former standout at East Webster High School, matched former NFL first-round draft pick Walt Harris with a interception in the third quarter of a 45-3 victory against Middle Tennessee State University.
Before the season Banks said it was a record he had circled on his bucket list. He said his desire to take possession of that record was a major reason he returned for his final season at MSU despite receiving serious interest from the NFL.
"I'm not going to lie because I'm really looking forward to breaking that record and if I don't, I'm going to be pretty disappointed," Banks said Aug. 9. "I would hope I can get one pick and be behind a guy that played something close to 15 seasons in the NFL. That wouldn't be too bad."
Banks intercepted quarterback Logan Kilgore near midfield and appeared to have the opportunity for his fourth career defensive touchdown before being hauled down following a 15-yard return.
"I thought I would score, and that's because I always think I'm going to score when I touch the football," Banks said.
During the return, Banks suffered an undisclosed injury to his left knee that kept him on the ground for several minutes while the MSU training staff examined him during a television timeout. Banks walked off the field without any assistance and was seen walking up and down the sidelines, but he didn't return to the game.
The preliminary evaluation is Banks will be healthy next week when MSU travels to play the No. 1 University of Alabama.
"Everybody had their heart jump right into their throat," MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
As the television timeout was going on, Mullen berated the referee as he came out to check on Banks. The Bulldogs' fourth-year coach believed there was a late hit on the play as Banks was already on the ground.
"I appreciated coach Mullen and our fans for always having our back as players," Banks said.
Several freshman get playing time early for MSU
MSU redshirt freshman Justin Malone started at right guard for senior Tobias Smith. Malone was on offensive line the entire game with Smith, a Columbus native, nursing his knee injury in preparation for next week's game at Alabama.
After not getting much action in SEC play this season, defensive tackle Quay Evans played opposite senior Josh Boyd on the defensive line. Before the game, Evans had two tackles since playing against Jackson State University in the season opener.
Evans, a four-star prospect from Morton High School, was one of five players to enroll early at MSU to be eligible for spring practices.
Nick James joined Evans on the defensive line in the second half. After missing the last two games and not traveling with the team to the game at the University of Kentucky two weeks ago, James saw action as the nose tackle. The freshman from Long Beach, who was a four-star recruit by most recruiting services, has two tackles this season.
"Those guys work really hard and we're always on them to get better in practice," Mullen said. "Sometimes what happens is they get on the field and they don't perform or don't know what they were doing. It was great to see a lot of them make the most of their opportunity."
Dak Prescott came in for MSU in red-zone situations and had one carry for 6 yards in the first half. Prescott returned in the fourth quarter to run the offense and finished with 35 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run.
In between junior LaDarius Perkins getting 14 carries for 55 yards in the first half, which saw No. 15 MSU take a 10-3 lead, Josh Robinson came in on the third possession, but the redshirt freshman from Franklington, La., ran the wrong way on a shotgun handoff and was immediately removed.
Redshirt freshman tailback Derrick Milton scored his second touchdown to put MSU up 45-3 with less than nine minutes remaining. The 6-foot, 205-pound back had 38 yards with the second string offense.
After the injury to Banks after the interception in the third quarter, redshirt freshman Taveze Calhoun stepped in. Calhoun has 12 tackles this season as mostly a special teams player in his first active season for MSU.
"I was just trying to give him some pointers throughout the rest of the game because I'd been playing for so long," Banks said. "Calhoun is a guy that's really talented, and he'll be really good in the future."
Leading 38-3 in the fourth quarter, MSU freshman defensive lineman Ryan Brown got his first career college sack. The New Orleans native had nine tackles this season before the sack.