By JOEL COLEMAN
Mississippi State’s pregame festivities belonged to Dak Prescott before the final home game of his Bulldog career. The Egg Bowl however, was taken over by Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly.
Kelly passed for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 74 yards and another score as the No. 18 Rebels topped the No. 21 Bulldogs 38-27 in front of 62,265 fans at Davis Wade Stadium.
“(Kelly) made some nice plays, scrambled around and kept some plays alive,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “That’s what we knew that he did coming into the game. He’s tricky to stop.”
The win served as Ole Miss’ first in Starkville since 2003 and was just the second victory by a visiting team in the last 12 Egg Bowls.
The Rebels sacked Prescott seven times in the game as Ole Miss took advantage of a battered MSU offensive line that was without starting left tackle Rufus Warren.
MSU’s starting right tackle Justin Senior, who missed last week’s game at Arkansas, played but again dealt with injury issues.
“(Ole Miss) was beating (our offensive line),” Mullen said. “We had a bunch of injuries that really affected us. We have a lot of guys banged up and we had to shuffle a bunch of guys around to improvise. They were winning in those one-on-one matchups.”
Through the pressure, Prescott threw for 254 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 63 yards and a score, but two early mistakes by the Bulldog signal caller had MSU facing an uphill climb all night.
On the game’s opening possession, Prescott fumbled away the football. Ole Miss recovered on its own 38 and drove 62 yards on four plays with Kelly’s 27-yard touchdown run putting the Rebels up 7-0.
After a Kelly 2-yard touchdown pass to Damore’ea Stringfellow gave Ole Miss a 14-0 lead later in the first quarter, Prescott was intercepted by Tony Bridges who returned the ball 45 yards for a score.
Suddenly, less than 12 minutes in, Ole Miss was up 21-0.
“I had the turnover on the first possession,” Prescott said. “(The defender) put his helmet right on the ball. I’ve got to protect the ball better. Then (on the interception), I was out of the pocket and should have thrown the ball away. That’s something I usually do, but I tried to make a play right there and threw it right to (Bridges) and he returned it.”
Ole Miss extended its lead prior to halftime.
The Rebels answered a 22-yard field goal from MSU’s Westin Graves with another Kelly-to-Stringfellow touchdown pass, this one from 36 yards out, to give Ole Miss a 28-3 advantage at the break.
Stringfellow ended the evening with 84 yards receiving to go along with his two touchdowns.
Reeling, the Bulldogs looked to regroup.
“I just told the guys to relax,” Mullen said. “We were making mistakes and we needed to get the team relaxed. We just talked about staying relaxed and staying the course and we would be alright.”
Mississippi State seemed to settle in during the third quarter.
Prescott scored on a 1-yard run and Graves hit a 27-yard field goal to pull MSU to within two scores at 28-13.
“Coach Mullen told us that no one believes that we could come back and win,” MSU receiver Fred Ross said. “He told us to just come out swinging and come out with the relentless effort and that attitude and let them know that we’re not going to quit.”
MSU’s comeback attempt was short lived. After Graves’ field goal, Ole Miss stretched the lead out to 18 with a 48-yard field goal from Gary Wunderlich.
Jordan Wilkins then broke off a 38-yard touchdown run in the opening moments of the fourth quarter to push Ole Miss’ lead to 38-13.
The Bulldogs closed the gap with a pair of Prescott touchdown passes to Malik Dear late, but it was nowhere near enough to turn back the Rebels.
“(I am) extremely pleased with taking the Egg Bowl back to Oxford,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “All week long, I thought our guys were ready. I loved our preparation and loved our plan we had all week.”
Ole Miss improved its record to 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference with the win.
MSU fell to 8-4 and 4-4 in the SEC.
Both teams will learn their bowl destinations on Dec. 6.
While Ole Miss will prepare for the postseason on the heels of Saturday’s big win, Freeze said both the Rebels and Bulldogs should be proud of where their teams have risen to in recent years.
“It is unfortunate that the loser of (the Egg Bowl) gets raked over the coals by some (media members),” Freeze said. “Both teams have had good years and it speaks volumes that this game now means something nationally. It is a credit to both schools’ staffs, kids and administrations that are investing in making our programs relevant.
“Both teams have had good years and it’s really unfortunate that some of them have to get criticized.”