Mississippi State found itself facing a 20-point deficit with just over 12 minutes remaining in its season opener against Louisiana Tech.
Undeterred, MSU finished with a flurry in all three phases to complete the largest comeback in school history. The 35-34 victory was sealed on the final play as LA Tech’s 46-yard field goal fell short to send 44,669 maroon and white faithful home happy.
“The end was good, which does illustrate how great you can be if you play together – all three sides of the ball,” said MSU head coach Mike Leach. “It was a great win and from what i understand, it’s the biggest comeback in school history. We had contributions and rose up on offense, defense and special teams to win that game.”
Louisiana Tech took a 34-14 lead following a field goal early in the fourth quarter before State began mounting its comeback.
The spark was started on special teams as Lideatrick Griffin returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to setup the homestanding Bulldogs at the 31-yard line. Three plays later, Jo’quavious Marks leapt into the end zone to start the rally with 12:01 left.
Mississippi State’s defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back quickly. The offense marched 77 yards in seven plays with quarterback Will Rogers completing all five of his passes on the drive to setup Marks again for a 5-yard scoring run to pull MSU within six.
Another three-and-out by the defense gave State the ball back with just over six minutes remaining. Rogers was again perfect on all five throws, with the last going to Jaden Walley for a 15-yard touchdown to tie things at 34 until Brandon Ruiz booted the extra point.
Louisiana Tech still had 3:37 to make something happen and kept its hopes alive by converting a crucial 4th-and-11 from the MSU 43-yard line. LA Tech then ran the ball three straight plays – netting just six yards – and called timeout with two ticks remaining.
Jacob Barnes’ 46-yard potential game-winner fell well short of the uprights to give State its fifth consecutive season-opening win.
“It got rough,” said MSU linebacker Nathaniel Watson. “We were down, but we fought and clawed back to the top. We’ve just got to keep on fighting.”
Mississippi State finished with 435 total yards, including 370 through the air.
Rogers completed 39 of 47 throws for 370 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. In the fourth quarter, he was a perfect 10 of 10 for 128 yards and a TD.
“Will kept his composure,” said MSU wide receiver Jamire Calvin. “He did not fold at all, he did not shake, he stayed the same person the entire game no matter what was going on. He stayed real levelheaded, and he continued to fight and his play led us to victory.”
Marks tallied three touchdowns on the afternoon, two on the ground and another receiving. He chewed up 71 yards on a dozen carries and also grabbed nine passes out of the backfield for 27 yards.
“Most of the whole game I think we were running strong,” Marks said. “But it was like the fourth quarter, we knew we were down and we had to get to get the comeback and win the game.”
In their respective Mississippi State debuts, Makai Polk hauled in 10 passes for 57 yards while Calvin caught three balls for 67 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the opening quarter.
Griffin tallied 173 all-purpose yards, 144 of which came via kickoff returns. He opened the game with a 38-yard return to go along with his 70-yarder in the fourth quarter.
“That was a full unit deal because there were some great blocks on that,” Leach said of Griffin’s final return. “Great blocks to the point where I’m a little curious of who missed their block that he didn’t score. Going down the field, I saw a number of great, key blocks because ‘Tulu’ isn’t going any further than he did earlier in the game if we’re not blocking on that play. We blocked really well because I didn’t see any of their guys out of position.”
Louisiana Tech totaled 369 yards on the day and were held to just 101 yards rushing.
Fred Peters led the way for MSU’s defense with nine tackles followed by Watson and Aaron Brule with seven apiece. Brule also added a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage and State’s lone sack.
Tyrus Wheat added an interception on Mississippi State’s first defensive possession and Aaron Odom also recovered a fumble in the first quarter, both of which led to touchdowns for the home team.