Head coach Joe Moorhead hugged Nick Fitzgerald, senior quarterback from Richmond Hills, Georgia, after he led a touchdown drive in the opening series, propelling Mississippi State University (5-3, 2-3) to a victory over Texas A&M University (5-3, 3-2) with a final score of 28-13.
"I am incredibly proud of Nick (Fitzgerald), for all the b.s. that that kid has had to endure," Moorhead said. "For parts of this season, and everything he has done to lay his heart and soul on the line and his body on the line for this university, and have to listen to that stuff. For him to come out and play this type of football, I am happy for every single person on this program tonight, but I am especially happy for that kid."
It only took 12 plays for MSU to string together a 79-yard drive, including 59 yards passing. Fitzgerald capped off the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Guidry, a junior wide receiver from New Roads, Louisiana, to give MSU an early lead.
However, MSU was unable to hang on to this lead for long, as they gave up a 34-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left in the half. Moorhead said the team went into halftime emotionally unwavered by the late score, and stuck to business as usual.
"We needed to come out and play a little harder, and execute a little better," Moorhead said. "When you talk about the culture of this program, we do not want emotional peaks and valleys. We do not want guys on a roller coaster, we want them to be playing hard all the time. Our reaction to prosperity and adversity has to be the same."
It took MSU shy of four minutes in the second half to take back the lead, as Fitzgerald found Osirus Mitchell, a sophomore from Sarasota, Florida, in the end zone on a 38-yard pass. To make the play, Mitchell seemed to have to do some extra work to get the ball, as he leapt into the air to grab it.
"I had to bait them in,” Mitchell said. "It ended up actually being an easier catch than I thought. I had really jump for that one, though."
The Aggies returned a punt to the 28-yard line, but was forced to kick a 41-yarder after the MSU defense made a key stop on the third down.
The crowd roared as Fitzgerald found Guidry over the middle on a crossing route, which Guidry then turned it into an 84-yard catch as he raced to the 2-yard line. That pass was the fourth-longest pass in MSU history, and set up Fitzgerald’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Fitzgerald attempted this score twice, as he was out of bounds the first time. On his second attempt, he powered through a few defenders, giving MSU an eight-point lead with about 14 minutes left.
The Aggies drove down the field and had a chance to score, as they had the ball at the 10-yard line, but Erroll Thompson, a sophomore linebacker from Florence, Alabama, made an interception in the end zone. Thompson said he wanted to run it out and make a play, but he did not do so.
"I was going to take it out, but I was not sure if anyone was beside me," Thompson said. "So I was just trying to make a play and get down. I knew it was late (in the) game, so I was just trying to make a play and get down."
Only one play later, Fitzgerald took the ball, made a cut to the left side and was gone as he sprinted 76-yards for a touchdown, making it 28-13 with two minutes left to go in the game. He was flagged for his celebration after the touchdown.
"I was thinking, 'Just do not get caught, do not get caught. Your teammates will never let it down, so do not get caught,'" Fitzgerald said. "I scored, and it put us up by two scores. I feel like I scored, I put my arms out and then my teammates came up. They threw the flag, and I thought it was a little unnecessary, but next time I get a flag, I will just kick it (the ball) into the stands."
MSU celebrated with students following their win over No. 16 Texas A&M. The Bulldogs will host LA Tech in their homecoming game on Oct. 11.