A few days ago, Mississippi State had a “takeover day” on the SEC Network, which got me thinking. What are the top five Mississippi State football games of my lifetime? Now, I am a young gun so these will be games that took place after 1996. But relive some fond memories with me, and share some of your own. Because dang it, it’s football season!
5. 2000 “Snow Bowl” vs Texas A&M
Quite honestly, I don’t recall much of what actually happened in this game considering I was just four years old. What I do remember is being quite possibly the coldest I’ve ever been and sitting in what I can only describe as a blizzard (I’m from southern Alabama, so an inch of snow is a lot). That was probably the most snow I’ve ever seen in my life, except for maybe one other instance when I was in Kentucky. My Mom, Grandmother, and I left around halftime as we simply didn’t come prepared for what took place that evening. We left my Grandfather by himself in the cold and went and watched the rest of the game in the warm sanctuary of the hotel room. My Grandfather ended up leaving the game early thinking the game was over after A&M took a 35-21 lead in the fourth quarter, only to find out Mississippi State had won the game in overtime after a blocked extra point returned for a two point conversion and a Wayne Madkin touchdown run sealed the win for the Bulldogs. Although I was too young to remember much about the game, the chill of that night in Shreveport, Louisiana, is something I will never forget.
Perhaps retrospectively, this game means more to me now than it did in the past. We all know how abysmal the 2000s were for Mississippi State. I obviously didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the last bowl MSU would play in until 2007. It made reminiscing over this game, and the crazy finish, that much sweeter. And that much more frustrating. To put it poetically, the freezing cold temperature from that night seemed to stay with the Bulldogs for years on the field as we lost game after game. Of course, that all changed with the hiring of Dan Mullen, but that’s another story for another time.
4. 2004 Mississippi State vs Florida
I remember riding over to Starkville from Columbus for the game and talking about wanting to just be competitive in this game. There was never a thought that crossed my mind that this might even be a close game, much less that we could actually win it. Remember, this is the year Maine trotted into Davis Wade and left with a “W.” However, Sylvester Croom always seemed to win one game a year that he wasn’t supposed to win, and this would be that game in 2004.
Much to the surprise of everyone in the stadium, the Dawgs would jump out to an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a two yard rush from quarterback Omarr Conner. Florida would answer with a touchdown of their own early in the second quarter to tie the game at seven. Mississippi State kept the peddle to the floor and responded with ten unanswered points to take a 17-7 lead with five minutes left in the half. The Gators wouldn’t go quietly though. Florida’s Chris Leak threw a touchdown pass with a minute remaining in the half to trim the Bulldog lead to just three heading into the break. State fans were shocked that their Bulldogs were able to not only keep the game close but take a lead into the locker room.
The second half began with Florida coming out and moving the ball down the field on their first possession, but the Gators would end up kicking a fifty-yard field goal to tie the game at 17. You could feel a groan from the fans in the stands as a feeling of “here we go” washed over the stadium. But on the next Florida possession, Mississippi State would hold the Gators to a three and out and force a punt that was returned 73 yards by Jonathan Lowe for a touchdown. Florida would respond with a 55 yard touchdown run to tie the game at 24 on their next possession. Then, Jerious Norwood would give the Bulldogs the lead on a one-yard touchdown run with nine minutes remaining in the ballgame. The Gators drove back down the field and tied the game at 31 on a one-yard run with five minutes left in the game. It was like a heavyweight prize fight, and both teams were landing big punches. But neither had been knocked out, and State had the ball. All they needed was a field goal to pull off arguably the biggest upset of the college football season. Then, with just 30 seconds remaining in the game, Jerious Norwood broke a 37 yard run to give Mississippi State a 38-31 victory over the #20 Florida Gators. I could feel my knees shaking and my palms sweating as he broke into the secondary, and I honestly could not believe my eyes. Norwood’s touchdown run is maybe the single-greatest play I have ever witnessed first hand at Davis Wade Stadium. Norwood would finish the game with 174 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns and finished as the undisputed MVP in the biggest win for the Bulldogs under Sylvester Croom.
3. 2011 Gator Bowl vs Michigan
The main reason this one is on here is for the simple fact that it was a victory over one of the blue bloods in college football. I mean how often is it that Mississippi State not only plays one of these programs, but blows them out of the stadium? I made the trip down to Jacksonville for this game as a birthday present of sorts (my birthday being the day after the game), and let me tell you, I couldn’t have asked for a better gift. This also may have been the first time I had ever gotten sunburned in January, but it was more than worth it.
Coming into the game, I felt like we had a pretty good shot at beating the Wolverines. State was coming into the contest at 8-4 and ranked 21st in the country, while Michigan was unranked and coming off a disappointing 7-5 season with head coach Rich Rodriguez on the hot seat. Michigan’s disappointing year wasn’t the fault of the offense though, as it was led by Heisman candidate Denard Robinson. Coming into the game, I knew that State would have to put up a lot of points, and they did just that. The Bulldogs offense was potent, they didn’t punt until the start of the third quarter.
Michigan took a 14-10 lead on a touchdown pass from Denard Robinson with 34 seconds remaining in the first quarter. At this point the game had the feel of a shootout where neither team was going to stop the other and whoever had the ball last would take home the win. However, that would not be the case. The Bulldogs would go on to score 42 unanswered points en route to a dominating 52-14 win over a national powerhouse, albeit in a down year. In true MSU fashion, former “two-star” quarterback Chris Relf was beyond brilliant in this game, showing everyone that Dan Mullen knows how to get everything from his players, especially the quarterback. Relf was not only the MVP of the Gator Bowl, he outplayed Heisman-hopeful Denard Robinson, and it wasn’t even close.
This was the first bowl game of the Mullen era, and looking back, it was a preview of what to expect from Dan Mullen-coached Mississippi State teams. This win marked an end to the dreaded 2000s of Mississippi State football and marked the beginning of a resurgent program in the SEC West.
2. 2013 Egg Bowl
What is better than football on a cold Thanksgiving night in Starkville, Mississippi? I’ll answer that for you. Mississippi State beating arch rival Ole Miss on a cold Thanksgiving night in Starkville, Mississippi. The Bulldogs did just that in the 2013 Egg Bowl at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State broke out new maroon uniforms with gold numbers and letters to go along with a gold chrome helmet on this night (which I was not a fan of by the way). The ugly uniforms aside, when making this list I knew I had to include this game on the account that it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had at a Mississippi State sporting event.
Freshman quarterback Damian Williams got the start for the Bulldogs due to injuries to both Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott. Now, Dak was cleared to play, but the coaching staff was trying to avoid further injury to his left shoulder, which had suffered abnormal nerve damage in the Texas A&M game a few weeks earlier. Williams started the game and played well for the most part. The main objective for him that night was to protect the ball and don’t make any bad mistakes, and he did that for three quarters. The two defenses would struggle back and forth all night to try to get a stranglehold on the ball game, as neither offense had any firepower. The Mississippi State defense was able to force three Bo Wallace interceptions in the first half, but the Bulldogs were only able to score seven points on those turnovers after Josh Robinson ran the ball in from one yard out in the second quarter. With just 26 seconds in the half, Mississippi State would try to punt the ball from their own end zone, which ended up backfiring as Ole Miss was able to get a hand on it and recover it for a touchdown. What was a fairly comfortable 7-0 lead going into halftime quickly evaporated as the two teams headed into the break tied, and all the momentum was with the Rebels.
Coming out of the break, Ole Miss would strike first with a quick opening drive field goal to give the Rebels a 10-7 advantage. Over the next quarter or so, the defensive struggle would continue as neither team could move the ball. With about fourteen minutes remaining in the game, Mississippi State had the football in Rebel territory when Damian Williams rolled out to his right and tossed an ill-advised pass down the side lines that was picked off by Ole Miss. Williams had given it all he had and then some, but it was quite clear at this moment, if Mississippi State had any chance to win this game a change had to be made at quarterback. Right on cue, Dak Prescott began warming up on the sideline.
The Bulldog defense would force a punt on the next Ole Miss possession. The punt went into the end zone for a touch back and in came Dak with 11:15 left in the game. State would move the ball a little bit in that first possession, but would ultimately be forced to punt the ball away. Things would be different on the next possession. Dak led the Bulldogs down the field to set up a 36 yard field goal from Evan Sobiesk to tie the game at ten. The defense would force a three and out, and Dak would have his chance to lead the offense down the field to set up a game winning field goal, but this game was destined to go to overtime as Sobiesk missed a 39 yard field goal at the end of regulation.
Mississippi State would get the ball first in overtime, where Dak would continue his late game heroics. On third and long, Dak completed a pass across the middle to Jameon Lewis, but he was stopped just short of the first down marker. Dan Mullen then made the bold decision to go for it on 4th and 2 from the four, but it would pay off when Dak plowed into the end zone to give the Bulldogs a 17-10 lead. That moment was the beginning of Dak’s legacy as the best quarterback in Mississippi State history. What happened next is something every Bulldog fan will remember for the rest of their lives. Bo Wallace runs a read option from the eleven yard line and takes off up the middle for what looks to be a sure touchdown until Nickoe Whitley strips the ball at the goal line to seal the win for Mississippi State.
1. 2014 vs Auburn
This game may be the greatest game in Mississippi State history simply due to the historical significance of the game. On October 12, 2014, #2 Auburn came to Davis Wade Stadium to face off against #3 Mississippi State. It was the first time Starkville had hosted a top-5 matchup in football. College Gameday made their first trip to Starkville for this high-stakes game between two of the best teams in the country. Between Jonathon Pabelon smoking a cigar and claiming “You’d have to put me six feet under in a body bag before I’d pick Ole Miss to win anything,” and the huge crowd that was gathered in the Junction for such an event, the stage was set, and now all Mississippi State would have to do is beat Auburn. And beat Auburn they did. The Bulldogs victory over Auburn that day propelled them to #1 in the polls the following week, where they would maintain that ranking for the next five weeks and be the first #1 team in the College Football Playoff Poll. Not only that, but Dak Prescott, if he hadn’t already, cemented himself as the greatest player to ever wear the maroon and white that afternoon.
The Bulldogs stormed out of the gates, and took an early 7-0 lead on their first possession of the game on a 34 yard touchdown pass from Dak to De’Runnya Wilson. They would go on to score two more touchdowns in the quarter to take a commanding 21-0, as the Tigers turned it over on their first two offensive plays of the game. Auburn would respond with thirteen unanswered points in the second quarter to trim the Bulldog lead to eight. Mississippi State would not be rattled with Dak leading the charge and would extend the lead to 28-13 at halftime on a quarterback draw up the middle where he would go 15 yards untouched. The third quarter lacked the fireworks of the first half though, as Auburn was able to cut into the lead on a 15 yard pass from Nick Marshall to make it an eight point game once again. The Bulldogs were able to put the game away early in the fourth with ten points in the span of about 26 seconds. I can still remember feeling the concrete beneath my feet shake when Justin Cox made the diving interception to seal the win and give Mississippi State its biggest victory in the Dan Mullen era.
Whether you agree or disagree, these games stood out to me for a reason. They were special because they embody what MSU really is at its core. An upset over a better team, taking nobodies and turning them into SEC stars. And of course, finally reaching the top of the mountain, if just for a brief second to prove we really can make it, epitomizes what it means to me to be a Bulldog. There’s no place I’d rather be, and no team I’d rather live and die on every play with. So relive your favorite games, and share them with me. Can you taste it? It’s almost football season.