Midway through the second quarter, the Auburn Tigers were holding a daunting 25-point lead over the Mississippi State University Bulldogs. By the end of the game, though, it was the team wearing maroon and white that was celebrating.
Sophomore quarterback Will Rogers had a record-setting day for the program and finished 44-of-55 for 415 yards with six touchdowns to lead his Bulldogs to a 43-34 victory. Wide receivers Makai Polk and Jamire Calvin had two touchdown receptions apiece, while sophomore running back Dillon Johnson and senior wide-out Malik Heath each accounted for one.
The Tigers started off hot. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix threw a 48-yard bomb on the first play of the game to set the tone early. After a Tigers touchdown, McCord drilled a 34-yard field goal to keep themselves in the game. Unfortunately, the home team added another touchdown with no response by the Bulldogs and were threatening deep in MSU territory again before the clock hit zero.
Nix added two more touchdowns midway through the second quarter to give his team a 28-3 advantage. The Tigers relaxed, feeling like a blowout victory was guaranteed. Fans in the stands chuckled at their team's success and the absolute meltdown by the Bulldogs. However, there was one thing they didn't know: MSU was far from done.
MSU's first touchdown came with 1:55 left in the second quarter on a short pass to Polk. Although the team had finally found some success on offense, Polk said Auburn fans still mocked them.
"The first time when I scored, I tried to shush the crowd," Polk said. "And you know, they were like, 'Oh, you guys are down 28-10.'"
After halftime, the Bulldogs had two things they did not have at the beginning of the game: possession of the ball and momentum. MSU used eight plays — in which they never encountered a third down — to march to the end zone. The drive was capped by a 3-yard pass from Rogers to Calvin that made it 28-17 with plenty of time left in the game. The tough Bulldog defense forced Auburn to punt away quickly, but they found themselves starting from their own 2-yard line. Normally, starting a drive in their own end zone would be daunting for the young team, but the Bulldogs took it in stride. In only 11 plays, MSU drove 98 yards down the field. Johnson recorded a 3-yard receiving score on Rogers's third touchdown of the day. Suddenly, the Tigers were shaking in their cleats. A game that had once seemed decided was now a five-point contest heading into the final quarter of action.
MSU took their first lead of the day with 13:28 left in the game when Rogers found Polk again for a 6-yard score. This time, Tigers fans had nothing to say. Although the two-point conversion failed, the Bulldogs had a 29-28 lead and appeared unstoppable. After Auburn went three-and-out on their next drive, the Dawgs took a more commanding lead. Calvin caught his second touchdown of the day from Rogers. McCord's extra point made it a 36-28 game in favor of the good guys. The Tigers had to act fast, but they didn't go about it in the right way. After Nix threw three straight incompletions to bring up fourth down, the home team went for a rare fake punt. It ended with a weak pass into a throng of players that was batted away by Jalen Green.
Five plays later, Rogers added his sixth and final touchdown of the day with 5:31 left to Malik Heath to put the game away for good. Fans began pouring out of the stadium in shock and dismay at the collapse of their beloved team. Although Auburn added one more score late in the quarter, it wasn't enough to make a difference. MSU went into the locker room celebrating their 25-point comeback, the largest in school history.
Head coach Mike Leach was understandably elated after the game. He walked into his press conference with a swagger that only comes from dancing with his team in the locker room. He was proud of the Bulldogs, but knew they had more work to do to prepare for the final two games of the season.
"If you think this was a thriller, we've got a big one next week and we're looking forward to that one," Leach said.
The Bulldogs have a home game this Saturday, as they'll face Tennessee State for an 11:00 a.m. kickoff.