As Jacob Barnes’ 46-yard game-winning field goal attempted floated harmlessly to the turf well short of the goal posts Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium, the Mississippi State sideline exploded onto the field.
The SEC Bulldogs acted like they were the 23-point underdog that had just won a close game. They weren’t and they were.
The heavily-favored Mississippi State squad used a 21-0 run over the final 13 minutes of the fourth quarter to rally for a 35-34 win over Louisiana Tech in the season opener for both teams.
After Mississippi State took a one-point lead with just over three minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs drove to the 28-yard line and gave themselves a chance.
However, Barnes game-winning kick was partially blocked, sending Tech home with the heartbreaking loss.
Tech trailed 14-0 late in the first quarter before Austin Kendall hit Dud Means on a 72-yard scoring strike on the last play of the stanza. Kendall then struck again early in the second quarter, faking a handoff and going 59-yards untouched for a 14-14 game.
“We were down 14-0, and we had turned the ball over twice,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “Nobody hung their head and nobody pouted or gave up. We stayed focused and played with excitement and energy. There at the end of the game, we just did not execute very well, and that falls on me as the head coach. I have to do a better job of getting them ready for pressure situations.”
Kendall gave Tech its first lead on a 24-yard scoring strike to Smoke Harris as the Louisiana-based Bulldogs led 21-14 at the half. Kendall passed for 269 yards and two scores and rushed for 68 yards and one TD in his Tech debut.
“I’m really proud of (Austin Kendall),” said Holtz. “The guy takes ownership of the game; he’s a great competitor. I love his poise and pocket presence. The offensive line did a great job of keeping him upright and giving him the chance to throw the ball.
“I thought he played a really good game. Looking back after seeing what I saw, I probably would have called the game a little bit differently and tried to get the ball into our receivers’ hands more. It’s just unfortunate we were so close and just couldn’t get it done at the end of the game.”
The Tech defense was stellar for the first three quarters, forcing four turnovers on the night and sacking Miss State QB Will Rogers four times. Trey Baldwin’s 35-yard interception return for a TD late in the third quarter upped the Tech lead to 31-14.
“When you look at it, we put our defense out there on a short field too many times,” said Holtz. “They got 28 points out of that; we have to do a better job of making them attempt a field goal instead of getting touchdowns.
“Our defense competed their tails off today. We were content with keeping the ball in front of us and making them throw the underneath routes and then rally and tackle. Most of the game we did that. Overall, I thought the defense competed and played hard and very physical.”
Barnes connected on field goal attempts of 20 and 33 yards as Tech pushed its lead out to 34-14 with 13:11 remaining in the game.
Special teams then went south. The ensuing kickoff saw Mississippi State return it all the way back to the Tech 21-yard line setting up a short field and a TD. Momentum started to swing.
After 3-and-out by Tech, a shanked punt of 20 yards gave State the ball on its 49-yard line. State drove 51 yards and closed the gap to 34-28 on Rogers scoring strike.
Another 3-and-out and State took over, this time driving 77-yards on seven plays and taking the 35-34 lead and setting the stage for Tech’s final possession.
Tech returns to action Saturday when it hosts Southeastern Louisiana. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
Photo credit: Darrell James
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