November 29, 2013 9:52:11 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Rivals Mississippi State and Ole Miss met for the 110th time in football Thursday and while it's difficult to say just where this, the first overtime game in the series' history, will stack up in the annals of the Egg Bowl rivalry, suffice to say the results were bitter-sweet.
It was bitter for an Ole Miss team looking for its second Egg Bowl win in as many seasons under coach Hugh Freeze, but oh-so-sweet for Mississippi State, which for the second week in a row won in overtime to finish the regular season with a 6-6 record and qualify for a school-record fourth consecutive bowl game.
The Bulldogs' 17-10 overtime victory came in a dramatic turn of events on the game's final play. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace broke through the middle of the MSU defense on what seemed certain to be a game-tying TD run, but was stripped of the ball at the MSU 3-yard line by safety Nickoe Whitley. The ball bounded forward into the end zone, where it was recovered by West Point native Jamerson Love to seal MSU's win, the fourth in its last five meetings with the Rebels.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of this team and our coaches in handling all the adversity we've had to go through all year," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "We found a way to win and that's what's most important. It was an unbelievable job."
With a quarterback corps decimated by injuries, the Bulldogs began the game with true freshman Damian Williams making his first career start and the Bulldogs trailed 10-7 going into the fourth quarter. But on the second series of the final quarter, Mullen inserted Dak Prescott into the game at quarterback. Prescott has missed the previous two games with nerve damage in his left shoulder and was not cleared to play until shortly before the start of Thursday's game.
It turned out to be the spark the lethargic Bulldog offense needed. Prescott led the Bulldogs on a game-tying drive that ended with a field goal with 2:21 left. A minute later, he again drove MSU into scoring territory, but Evan Sobiesk's 39-yard field goal attempt on the final play of regulation sailed wide right.
In the overtime, Prescott posted what proved to be the winning points on an all-or-nothing fourth-and-one play with a burst over right game for a touchdown.
Ole Miss seemed sure to match that overtime score, but in a stunning turn of events, Wallace's sprint for the end zone resulted instead in a game-ending fumble.
"It's a feeling I've never felt before," admitted Wallace, who also threw three first-half interceptions as the Rebels offense managed just three points against the Bulldogs' never-say-die defense. "It's like your heart is ripped out...(Our offense) was awful. We were terrible."
The Rebels' only touchdown came in the final seconds of the first half on a blocked punt and recovery in the end zone knotted the score at 7-7.
Although both the Rebels and Bulldogs will play in bowls, neither team will know its destination until Dec. 8. The Bulldogs' destination is likely to be one of three bowls -- the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La. (Dec. 31), The AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis (Dec. 31) or the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham (Jan. 4).
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]