Leach's Bulldogs open season with largest comeback in team history

Tulu Griffin (5) was a major piece of the comeback this past weekend after a long kick return.

In true Bulldog fashion, the Mississippi State University football team won their season opener against Louisiana Tech University by a score of 35-34 after making a 20-point comeback and blocking Louisiana Tech's final field goal attempt.

Will Rogers, a sophomore quarterback from Brandon, Mississippi, finished 39 of 47 with 370 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Jo'quavious Marks, a sophomore running back from Atlanta, Georgia, ran for 71 yards and two touchdowns.

The game started with a bang. Lideatrick Griffin, a sophomore wide receiver from Philadelphia, Mississippi, took the opening kickoff to the 40-yard line to give the Bulldogs good field position. The drive ended with a missed 52-yard field goal attempt, but it gave the team momentum.

On Louisiana Tech's first possession, Tyrus Wheat, a senior linebacker from Amite, Louisiana, intercepted an errant pass by quarterback Austin Kendall to give the Bulldog offense a great chance to score. Rogers completed a 1-yard pass to Marks to give his team the 7-0 lead.

The Bulldogs scored again after another Tech turnover which led to a 20-yard touchdown pass from Rogers to Jamire Calvin, a graduate transfer from Pasadena, California. Tech was finally able to answer with a 77-yard touchdown pass from Kendall to Bub Means as time expired.

Heading into the second quarter, the MSU team and fans alike seemed confident with a 14-7 lead and a lot of momentum, but Louisiana Tech would not back down. Early in the second quarter, Louisiana Tech quarterback Austin Kendall, a graduate transfer from Waxhaw, North Carolina, had his only rushing touchdown of the game. The ensuing extra point made it 14-14 with nearly 12 minutes to go until halftime.

Tech managed to hold the Bulldogs scoreless on the next three possessions while adding another touchdown to give LA Tech the 21-14 lead heading into the half. Even with all of these uncertain situations, it did not discourage the MSU team and coaches.

Coach Leach reflected on the team's mistakes, but was hopeful the Dawgs could bring it back.

"The middle of that game was about as bad as a team can play, but let's go ahead and do our jobs. Let's look like Wednesday's practice," Leach said.

No more points were scored until Louisiana Tech's Jacob Barnes, a freshman kicker from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, made a 20-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10. Only a minute later, Rogers threw an interception that was returned for a 35-yard touchdown.

Louisiana Tech took a commanding 31-14 lead, and disgruntled fans booed as the teams headed to the sideline to wait for the start of the fourth quarter. This was a challenging moment for the MSU team, but they were not ready to give up. 

Fred Peters, MSU safety from Columbia, Mississippi, spoke on the opponent and why the defense was unable to perform. 

"I mean it was not really nothing different. We just have to execute differently," Peters said.

Louisiana Tech made MSU's deficit even larger after another field goal by Barnes made the score 34-14. The Bulldogs seemed defeated, but that is when the magic happened. Griffin returned the next kickoff for the bulldogs 70 yards to Tech's 21-yard line. Marks had his first rushing touchdown of the night from the 1-yard line, and Brandon Ruiz, a senior kicker from Tempe, Arizona, kicked an extra point that made it a 34-21 game with 12:01 left.

The Bulldog defense forced Tech to go 3-and-out and allowed the offense to get the ball back quickly and keep momentum going. Marks scored his second touchdown on a 5-yard rushing play, and suddenly the Bulldogs were only down by six points.

The defense once again held Tech to only four plays, one of which came after an offsides penalty. Rogers rose to the challenge of completing the comeback with less than five minutes left in the game. He went 4-4 on the offense's final drive and finished the night with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jaden Walley, a sophomore wide receiver from D'Iberville, Mississippi.

After the extra point, the Bulldogs took a 35-34 lead with 3:37 remaining. For the remaining three and a half minutes, Tech tried to edge their way down the field to get within comfortable field goal range. They let the clock wind down to only two seconds, then brought out Barnes to attempt a 46-yard field goal.

As Barnes's kick went in the air, a host of Bulldogs tipped it, causing it to fall short of the goalpost. MSU claimed the 35-34 victory, and the 20-point comeback was the largest in team history.

Leach spoke on the morale of the team following the comeback.

"I think everybody is real happy that they won, but I'd like them to draw a lot of confidence and perspective on how well we can play when we play together," Leach said. 

The Mississippi State University Bulldogs will return to action at home next week against North Carolina State for a chance at a big out-of-conference win.

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