November 29, 2013 10:27:18 AM
STARKVILLE -- Welcome to Dak Prescott's Thanksgiving night miracle.
In what his coach called "divine intervention" in postgame interviews, Mississippi State's sophomore quarterback etched his name in the history and lore of the most important game in the Magnolia State. In less than a week, Prescott went from medically unable to play to rescuing the Bulldogs and becoming the hero for a majority of the crowd of 55,113 at Davis Wade Stadium that witnessed MSU's 17-10 overtime victory against Ole Miss.
"I didn't think there was any chance that he would be able to play," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "It was a miracle. I don't know what else to call it."
Down 10-7 with more than 11 minutes possibly left in MSU's season, Mullen turned to Prescott for what turned out to be one of the most remarkable relief efforts in the history of the rivalry. In the postgame media conference, Mullen broke into tears when talking about Prescott's performance.
"It was a heroic effort," Mullen said. "He's as tough as they come in this world. When your quarterback looks you in the eye and says, 'Give me the ball and we're going to score', that's a pretty easy decision on my part as a coach."
Prescott engineered a comeback that culminated with a 3-yard plunge on fourth-and-1 on his classic draw play in overtime. The victory made MSU (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) bowl eligible for the fourth-straight season for the first time in program history. It also gave MSU its fourth victory against Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5) in the past five meeting for just the second time since 1950, and helped it reach the six-win mark in four consecutive campaigns for the first time since 1997-2000.
"We had our chances to put it away, or put it to a two-score game several times," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "We did not get it done."
Prescott, who missed a loss to No. 1 Alabama and a victory at Arkansas with nerve damage to his left shoulder, was 11 of 20 for 115 yards. He also rushed for 29 yards.
"It's been plenty of downs and plenty of ups for me lately, and this is certainly one of the best feelings I've ever had," Prescott said. "It was a awesome atmosphere, and our team wanted to keep fighting all night. Sometimes you have to just keep fighting."
In the past month, Prescott went from the emotional low of losing his mother, Peggy, to cancer to the unbelievable exhilaration of lifting the Egg Bowl trophy in front of thousands of fans. MSU players were all asked to write a letter to a person they wanted to dedicate the game to. Prescott's choice couldn't have been more clear.
"(Mullen) wanted this game to be personal, so I wrote the letter to my mom," Prescott said. "She's just like me, and I wrote in the letter that she hated Ole Miss just as much as I did. Her favorite time of the year was to travel with our team for a bowl game, so there's no better time of the year for her."
Mullen said earlier in the week Prescott would be out at least until a bowl game and that he "wasn't smart enough" to mean the Egg Bowl. Mullen told his wife, Megan, on Thursday morning he was convinced Prescott wouldn't suit up for the game. MSU had a nerve specialist, Dr. Alan Sills, come over from Nashville on Thursday to evaluate Prescott. That's when the miracle was born.
"Dr. Sills said to me two weeks ago (Prescott) would be lucky to play in a bowl game," Mullen said. "He then says, 'I've never seen anything like this before and it must be a miraculous recovery', and then he cleared him for the game."
Prescott didn't take any repetitions in practice during the week. His only work was throwing passes Tuesday in a workout without pads. Sills' examination less than a hour before kickoff determined Prescott wasn't 100 percent physically but he wasn't going to suffer further damage to the shoulder nerves or his neck. Therefore, he and team medical staff determined he was able to play.
"I think it was after that first hit where I popped up and said to myself, 'OK, I'm good,' " Prescott said. "It was probably adrenaline flowing through my body that helped a lot, too."
MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said he talked with the doctors about Prescott's health status just as much as the team's coaches. As they walked off the field, it was Stricklin, a MSU graduate, who told Prescott he delivered one of the most memorable Egg Bowl performances in the rivalry.
"That's a pretty special performance for a kid that has had a lot of setbacks recently," Stricklin said. "Dak's the kid that has filled that leadership void this team has had. He has that natural charisma, and the guys just seem to respond around him."
Before Prescott entered the game, MSU had three three-and-outs and a turnover by freshman quarterback Damian Williams.
"It was just an amazing atmosphere when I walked on to Davis Wade Stadium," Prescott said. "Everybody screamed to let me know they had my back."
Prescott led a 13-play drive in the fourth quarter that ended with a 36-yard field goal by Evan Sobiesk that tied the game with 2 minutes, 21 seconds left. The sophomore quarterback then led a 45-yard drive that included a fourth-down completion to freshman De'Runnya Wilson that helped set up a field goal to win the game, but Sobiesk pushed the 38-yarder wide right and forced MSU to play its first back-to-back overtime game in program history. Last week, Williams' 25-yard run helped MSU beat Arkansas 24-17 in Little Rock, Ark.
On what turned out to be MSU's final offensive play, Prescott convinced Mullen to change from a pass to a quarterback draw.
"I told him, 'Coach, I got Gabe (Jackson), a senior All-American on the line, and just let me get behind him and go,' " Prescott said. "It was 2 yards, and I told coach Mullen I can get it. I swear."
Said Mullen, "I know that I've had another No. 15 in my career (former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow) play the way Dak did tonight," Mullen said. "I don't think Dak was going to feel any pain at all on that last run no matter what happened."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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