With Mississippi State’s offense struggling and time slipping away in the Egg Bowl, coach Dan Mullen turned to Dak Prescott and asked him to win the game.
Bum shoulder and all, the sophomore quarterback did just that, running for a 3-yard touchdown in overtime to lead the Bulldogs past rival Mississippi 17-10 on a chilly Thursday night at Davis Wade Stadium.
Prescott didn’t enter the game until the fourth quarter because of a nerve injury to his non-throwing arm that caused him to miss the past two games. But the sophomore led the Bulldogs (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) to their tying drive in the fourth quarter and the game-winner in overtime.
"The second I put him on the field I felt like we were going to win the game," Mullen said.
Prescott completed 11 of 20 passes for 115 yards in a performance that will long be remembered in Egg Bowl lore. His game-winning touchdown came on a gutsy call by Mullen, who opted to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the 3 instead of kicking a short field goal.
"He said `Give me the ball and I’ll get the job done,’" Mullen said. "That was an easy decision."
It was an emotional win for the Bulldogs and especially Prescott, whose mother died earlier this month after a yearlong battle with cancer.
"This season has had plenty of downs, plenty of ups," Prescott said. "It’s good to know that my teammates have been there through it all and helped me get through it."
Ole Miss had a chance to tie the game in overtime, but the drive ended when quarterback Bo Wallace fumbled and Mississippi State’s Jamerson Love recovered the ball in the end zone.
Mississippi State freshman Damian Williams, the third-string quarterback, made his first career start because of injuries to Prescott and Tyler Russell. He completed 8 of 18 passes for 82 yards and one interception.
The Bulldogs are now bowl eligible for a fourth straight season, the longest streak in school history. Mississippi State has won four of the last five Egg Bowls and five in a row at Davis Wade Stadium.
Mississippi State’s Evan Sobiesk missed a 38-yard field goal wide right at the end of regulation that would have won the game.
Both teams struggled to move the ball in the chilly conditions — especially through the air. The temperature hovered in the low 30s throughout the night, which is downright frigid by Magnolia State standards.
Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5) didn’t have an offensive touchdown, scoring only on a field goal and blocked punt in the end zone. The Rebels ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak.
"Last year we got embarrassed up there," Mississippi State cornerback Taveze Calhoun said. "We had to go out and play like there’s no tomorrow. Left it all on the field."
The Rebels had one good early drive but it ended with nothing after Andrew Ritter’s 27-yard field goal attempt bounced off the left upright.
Wallace threw three interceptions before halftime and the final one was costly. Mississippi State’s Justin Cox grabbed it at the Ole Miss 30 and the Bulldogs’ subsequent drive ended with Josh Robinson’s 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter.
Ole Miss did nothing on its next possession and quickly punted back to Mississippi State, which looked as though it would ease into halftime with the lead.
But a mistake on special teams hurt the Bulldogs when Collins Moore burst through the line and blocked Baker Swedenburg’s punt after the snap was bobbled. It was recovered by little-used senior Terrell Grant in the end zone to tie the game at 7.
Ole Miss grabbed the lead for the first time early in the third quarter after Ritter’s 22-yard field goal gave the Rebels a 10-7 advantage. The points were certainly welcome for the Ole Miss offense, but it was the team’s fifth straight trip to the red zone without a touchdown, dating back to last weekend’s loss to Missouri.
That lack of efficiency came back to haunt the Rebels.
"This is a difficult one," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "But we’re not the only (team) to go through it."
Williams played decently for the Bulldogs and avoided any major mistakes, but with the offense struggling early in the fourth quarter, Mullen turned to Prescott, who had missed the past two games with a nerve injury in his non-throwing arm.
Mullen said earlier in the week that Prescott wouldn’t play in the Egg Bowl, but he looked plenty healthy as he led the Bulldogs down the field on his second drive, completing several impressive passes. The drive ended with Sobiesk’s 36-yard field goal to tie it at 10.
"It was a tough call to play Dak," Mullen said. "I met with the doctors (pregame), and the most important thing they said, was he shouldn’t get hurt any more. That was the biggest concern, that it could cause longer term damage."
It was a tough night for Mississippi’s Wallace, who completed 26 of 40 passes for 182 yards but threw three interceptions and coughed up the fumble in overtime.
"We tried to get in his head," Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown said. "Disguise, explode and get him on the ground."