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MSU holds onto lead, Egg Bowl


Mississippi State players hold up the Egg Bowl trophy after beating Mississippi 31-23 in Oxford on Saturday.

Mississippi State players hold up the Egg Bowl trophy after beating Mississippi 31-23 in Oxford on Saturday. Photo by: Stan Beall/Special to the Dispatch


David Miller



OXFORD -- Mississippi State built a 22-point third-quarter lead but had to hang on late to secure a 31-23 win and its second straight in the Battle for the Golden Egg.  


Saturday''s regular-season finale included Herculean performances from freshman running back LaDarius Perkins and quarterback Chris Relf. The former turned in a career-high 319 all-purpose yards -- second-best in school history -- and had a pair of receiving touchdowns. Perkins added 98 rushing yards on 13 carries.  


Relf, the hero of last season''s Egg Bowl, set a career-high in passing yards for the second straight week. The junior completed 13 of 20 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns, helping MSU (8-4, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) to scoring drives of two, three and four plays in the first half. MSU had long gains of 33, 44 and 72 yards in a 21-point second quarter for MSU.  


How Relf got the MSU offense in gear was uncharacteristic of how it usually plays: taking to the air early and often.  


Relf, who leads the team in carries, didn''t record a rush in the first quarter. The Bulldogs were held to single digit rushing yards and trailed Ole Miss 6-0 at the end of the first.  


But Relf, who had overthrown Arceto Clark and Chad Bumphis on deep plays in the first quarter, found success in the passing game with gains of 33 and 71 yards.  


"Chris came out early and missed a couple of shots early, then he hit a couple," Mullen said. "He did a good job setting his feet and did a nice job throwing the ball. He did a nice job managing the game.  


But in the absence of the usually reliable Vick Ballard, who was hampered with a leg injury but managed 22 carries, it was redshirt freshman Perkins who proved to be the dagger for MSU''s offense.  


Perkins'' previous career-best game came against UAB when he had 18 carries for 131 yards. But on the big stage of a rivalry game, one in which MSU head coach Dan Mullen has admittedly thrown gasoline on the trash-talking fire, Perkins showed why coaches and players have raved about his speed and big-play potential.  


Mired in a three-back rotation for much of the year, the change-of-pace back became Ballard''s clear-cut backup over the last third of the season. 


He showed his versatility in catching a 33-yard touchdown pass over Ole Miss defender Allen Walker to give MSU a 14-6 lead in the second quarter. Later, he took a screen pass 36 yards and another one 71 yards to set up a MSU score.  


"When you throw a good screen, good things should happen," Perkins said. "I had to turn it on this game. This game, it showed what I can do in space. This was a big game for me." 


The Bulldogs finished the game with 498 yards of offense. And thought the Bulldogs eventually caught fire in the running game, Mullen said the Rebels'' choice to stack the box with eight defenders left them no choice but to put the ball in the air.  


"When you stand eight guys on the line, once you get through there''s some big plays to be made," Mullen said. "We were able to get to that second level. They were daring us to make plays down the field. I think all the attention stopping Ballard up the middle certainly opened some things up for Perkins on the edge." 


Through all of MSU''s success in the game -- they led 31-9 with two minutes and 49 seconds left in the third quarter -- the Rebels made a game of it through Brandon Bolden''s 10-yard touchdown run and James Logan''s 24-yard scoring pass from Jeremiah Masoli. The two scores cut MSU''s lead to eight, 31-23 with 4:21 left to play. 


MSU started at its own 29 on the ensuing kickoff and picked up a first down before facing third-and-4 from the Ole Miss 48. Ballard took the third-down carry and was dropped for a four-yard loss before he lost the ball and Ole Miss recovered. But the play was reviewed and overturned. 


Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7) managed a pair of first downs before going out on downs at its own 23.  


The Rebels'' ground game, which ranked second in the league with 220.5 yards per game, finished with just 65 yards on 35 carries. Leading rusher Brandon Bolden was held to 45 yards on 12 carries, falling short of 1,000 yards on the season with 976. 


MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said stopping Bolden took precedent over containing dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.  


"I think Bolden is as good of a back as there is in the SEC," Diaz said. "I don''t know that in our wildest dreams we would have imagined shutting him down like we did in the first half. 


"Masoli is a heck of a player, but ultimately if you''re one dimensional it''s hard to win a football game that way. I thought the d-line was critical." 


Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt his offense''s sluggish performance, especially in the first half when the Rebels were 0 of 10 on third downs.  


"MSU had a great defense tonight," Nutt said. "Our offense did not do enough to help our defense when there were playing well. That has been our story this year. That is what makes it tough. When our defense is on target our offense isn''t." 


Conerly Trophy finalist and MSU linebacker Chris White finished with nine tackles and one-and-a-half for a loss. Fellow senior linebacker K.J. Wright had nine tackles and two sacks.  


Ballard set the school record for touchdowns with 17 and tied the school record for rushing touchdowns with 16.  


MSU will learn which bowl game it will play in after next week''s round of conference championship games.



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