By JOEL COLEMAN
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – On a night with over 100 points scored and more than 1,000 combined yards of total offense, Saturday’s wild contest between Mississippi State and Arkansas all came down to the hand of a linebacker that wasn’t even supposed to be in the game.
With Arkansas ready to kick a game-winning 29-yard field goal, MSU’s Beniquez Brown surged through and blocked Cole Hedlund’s attempt to seal a 51-50 win for the Bulldogs over the Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“I actually wasn’t even supposed to go (in) on that play,” Brown said. “I just took it upon myself to go. I had just asked (defensive line) Coach (David) Turner on the sideline if it was okay if I went and he said ‘sure’. I activated and blocked the kick.”
Brown’s block put an end to a back-and-forth contest that saw Arkansas erase a 17-point first-half deficit before four second-half lead changes resulted in the Mississippi State win.
“I’ve never jumped out of a plane,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “I wanted to be a skydiver when I was younger. So I’m just guessing (tonight) was like jumping out of a plane and then pulling the rip cord four hours later. I was in a free-fall for four hours.”
Quarterback Dak Prescott helped break Mullen’s descent. MSU’s heralded signal caller threw for a school-and-career-best 508 yards to go along with five touchdown passes. He also ran for 46 yards and two more scores.
Prescott put up those numbers and led Mississippi State back after the Bulldogs squandered their first-half advantage causing Mullen to place Prescott a level above some of the all-time greats in college football, including former Mullen protégés like Tim Tebow and Alex Smith.
“I’d say he might be the best player I’ve ever coached,” Mullen said of Prescott. “If you look at my coaching resume, that’s pretty impressive.”
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen was almost as good as Prescott, throwing for 406 yards and seven touchdowns.
Allen’s arm opened the scoring in the game with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Drew Morgan early in the first quarter.
Mississippi State roared back with an answer.
On their ensuing possession, the Bulldogs put together an eight-play, 77-yard drive that was capped by Prescott’s 38-yard touchdown toss to Brandon Holloway.
From there, Mississippi State’s defense forced a three-and-out, allowing Prescott to put MSU ahead 14-7 with a 4-yard touchdown run moments later.
Arkansas tied things up in the opening moments of the second period. Allen hit tight end Jeremy Sprinkle for a 5-yard score before Mississippi State reeled off 17 unanswered points to seemingly seize control.
Westin Graves drilled a 21-yard field goal to put MSU up 17-14 and Prescott threw two more touchdown passes.
Fred Brown hauled in an 8-yard catch to make it 24-14 before Ross made a highlight-reel, one-handed reception on a 55-yard touchdown catch to put the Bulldogs up 31-14.
“I ran a crossing route and Dak threw it and I just jumped,” Ross said. “That was really just all God. It just happened so quick.”
From there, Arkansas rallied. The Razorbacks added a score just before halftime when Allen hit Jared Cornelius from 9 yards out to pull within 10 points at 31-21.
Mississippi State fueled the Arkansas comeback after the intermission with three turnovers in the span of six minutes.
Holloway fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half setting up an Allen 3-yard touchdown pass to Sprinkle.
Arkansas took the lead at 35-31 after the Razorbacks intercepted Prescott and Allen threw to Hunter Henry in the end zone from 39 yards out.
Prescott fumbled on MSU’s ensuing possession to set up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Allen to Henry for a 42-31 Arkansas lead.
“We were making mistakes,” Prescott said. “When we didn’t make mistakes, we started getting the tempo going again and converted and got touchdowns.”
Prescott put MSU back up in the fourth quarter. First, he ran one in from 3 yards out to pull MSU to within four at 42-38.
The Bulldogs reclaimed the lead on a 10-yard pass from Prescott to De’Runnya Wilson, but Graves missed the extra point so MSU settled for a 44-42 advantage.
Arkansas responded on its ensuing possession with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Allen to Sprinkle and a successful 2-pt conversion.
Prescott then orchestrated what was ultimately MSU’s game-winning drive.
With 3:05 to play, the Bulldogs went up for good on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to Ross.
“It was man-to-man (coverage) across the board,” Prescott said. “If (Ross) didn’t win, I was going to throw it to (Wilson), but (Ross) won clean so I threw it off the back foot and he made a good catch and broke a tackle.”
Arkansas then worked its way down the field for Hedlund’s game-winning try.
Prescott said he didn’t even look.
“I had my head down,” Prescott said. “Then I said ‘forget it’ and looked up. As soon as I looked up, I saw it had been blocked and the guys went crazy.”