Two play reviews and eight quarters later, Mississippi State University (4-2, 1-2 SEC) finally scored a touchdown as Nick Fitzgerald trucked into the end zone to make it a 13-3 lead over Auburn (4-2, 1-2 SEC) to end the second quarter.
Fitzgerald, a senior quarterback from Richmond Hills, Georgia, said he knows the potential of the offense under head coach Joe Moorhead. The offense was kickstarted after a muffed punt at the Auburn 32, which led to their first touchdown in almost two games.
"When we get things going, and when we get things rolling, it is hard to stop," Fitzgerald said. "Whether we are going to run the ball or we are going to pass the ball, it doesn't really matter because we are going to get the ball down the field and get in the end zone."
The defense was vital throughout the game, especially in the first half when they stymied the Auburn offense twice in the red zone to force two field goals, only one of which was successful.
Mark McLaurin, a senior safety from Collins, said the team performed well in all three phases of the game, and making the stops in the first half was huge in the success of the defense early on.
"It is really big, we always pride ourselves in no touchdowns," McLaurin said. "It is either zero or three, that is what we pride ourselves on. The crowd was great, we really thank everyone for coming out, it was huge support."
The run game also found success in the game by using motions and read options to give Fitzgerald, Aeris Williams, a senior from West Point, and Kylin Hill, a sophomore running back from Columbus, 349 yards rushing combined.
"You look at Auburn’s defensive front, they are one of the most stout, and most talented teams I have seen on film," Moorhead said. "We had to do something to neutralize their physicality, and we did run some motions to get them moving east and west. I think the motions helped us gain numbers at the point of attack."
Jace Christmann, a senior field goal kicker from Houston, Texas, made his third field goal of the night in the third quarter with 6:55 to put the Bulldogs up 16-3. The following drive by Auburn led to the most dynamic play of the night.
Auburn running back JaTarvious Whitlow sliced through the MSU defense and sprinted toward the goal line. However, Mclaurin tracked down the Auburn running back yards from the end zone and poked the ball free, leading to a Kobe Jones‘ recovery in the back of the end zone. McLaurin said it was relentless pursuit that allowed him to force a fumble.
"Just find a way to get him down and make a play for the team," McLaurin said. "You know that would have changed the game, and it did change the game big time. It was a huge play, everyone on the sideline was pumped, and we just had to keep it going from there."
During the game, Fitzgerald broke Tim Tebow’s record for most rushing yards by an SEC quarterback, on a 21 yard run. Fitzgerald had 195 yards on 28 carries, but he would not have accomplished this feat without offensive linemen like Deion Calhoun, a senior from Pleasant Grove, Alabama.
"I heard over the announcer that he broke Tebow’s record, so he has made a lot of plays," Calhoun said. "I do see that as team accomplishment because I have been blocking for Nick Fitzgerald since 2015. We are a part of that accomplishment, having the leading rushing (quarterback) in the SEC."
Two field goals by Auburn’s Anders Carlson made it 16-9 before Nick Fitzgerald dashed Auburn’s hopes with a 21 yard TD run to make it 23-9 to seal the game. Calhoun, an Alabama native, said the win meant a lot to him personally.
"Growing up, I played 1A ball in Alabama, a lot of people told me I was not going to be recruited," Calhoun said. "I did not listen to it, I kept trusting the process and I ended up choosing Mississippi State. Auburn did not really recruit me, I did not get an offer from them, so when I play them I feel like I have to have a chip on my shoulder."
The 60,359 fans who packed Davis Wade Stadium, made the night magical as MSU beat the former No. 9 Auburn Tigers. Moorhead thanked the fans for coming out and supporting the team as they head into a bye week.
"I want to thank the fans for coming out here and making it an electric atmosphere," Moorhead said. ”(They were) really supporting the team, and giving us an incredible home field advantage."