By JOEL COLEMAN
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With 30 seconds to play in the Belk Bowl on Wednesday, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen called a timeout. MSU was in complete control, but it was time to say farewell to the greatest Bulldog to ever wear maroon and white.
Quarterback Dak Prescott jogged off the field at Bank of America Stadium, pointed to the sky and embraced backup Nick Fitzgerald, who came in to take his place. Prescott called it a career. He couldn’t have ended things on a much higher note.
Prescott was named the Belk Bowl Most Valuable Player after engineering an offense that shredded NC State as the Bulldogs topped the Wolfpack 51-28 in the rain and put the exclamation point on the MSU signal caller’s illustrious career.
“I had high expectations for myself (when I came to Mississippi State),” Prescott said. “For it all to come true, for it to be so real, it’s special and humbling.”
Prescott set Belk Bowl records for passing yards and total offense as he threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 47 yards.
Mullen wasn’t surprised by Prescott’s numbers. He’d seen it all before.
“That’s kind of normal for him,” Mullen said.
Even NC State head coach Dave Doeren couldn’t hold back the praise for Prescott.
“He’s a great quarterback and is arguably the best player they’ve ever had at their university,” Doeren said. “You look at his yardage and the way he handles things and how tough he is and how he runs the ball, he’s just a really good quarterback.”
It didn’t take long for Prescott to get going against the Wolfpack. On the first play from scrimmage, MSU defensive lineman Johnathan Calvin pressured NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett to set up an interception by Gerri Green. Just five plays and a little over a minute later and Prescott had the Bulldogs in the end zone with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Fred Ross.
Mississippi State (9-4) actually sprinted out to an early 21-0 advantage. Following a Brandon Bryant pick late in the first quarter, Prescott hit De’Runnya Wilson on two straight passes covering 67 total yards for a score.
With 12:17 on the clock in the second quarter, Ross crossed the goal line again after a 33-yard run off of a reverse.
“You want to start fast,” Mullen said. “First play of the game, we get an interception and come out and score right away. We create another turnover. We get a stop. Had a long pass and touchdowns. Making plays and executing clean gives the guys a lot of confidence for the entire game.”
NC State (7-6) fought back with a pair of big plays. Brissett found a wide open Pharaoh McKever for an 82-yard touchdown pass before Jaylen Samuels broke off a 48-yard scoring run to close the Wolfpack deficit to 21-14.
Even with the lead narrowing, Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown said the Bulldogs weren’t concerned.
“We just had a little miscommunication,” Brown said. “We knew what the problem was and knew how to fix it if they tried to do it again, so there wasn’t any panic. We just locked down, relaxed and buckled down.”
From that point on, the Bulldogs cruised. Offensive lineman Justin Malone recovered a Prescott fumble in the end zone to put MSU up 28-14. The Bulldogs added a Westin Graves field goal before halftime to go up by three more.
NC State got back within ten points after the intermission on a 3-yard run from Brissett, but the Bulldogs responded with three straight touchdowns.
The first two came on Prescott passes to Brandon Holloway. Holloway’s first score came from 10 yards out late in the third quarter prior to getting in from 55 yards away early in the fourth.
Aeris Williams added MSU’s final points with a 33-yard touchdown run to make it 51-21.
Samuels scored for the Wolfpack with 45 seconds remaining to cap the scoring before Prescott’s goodbye trot to the sidelines.
Prescott’s career ends with the Haughton, Louisiana native holding 38 school records.
He finished with a 23-10 mark as a starter and became the only player to ever register 4,000 yards of total offense in consecutive seasons at MSU.
Prescott took the Bulldogs to No. 1 in the country in his junior season and now sits near the top in multiple Southeastern Conference and national career statistical categories.
With it all now over, Mullen struggled to find what to say.
“I don’t think there are words to really describe what (Prescott) has done for this program,” Mullen said. “I think he took the university and football program and changed the way people think about themselves.”
Prescott insisted his career was exactly what he desired when he came to Mississippi State half a decade ago.
“It kind of seems like yesterday and then it seems like a lifetime ago that I was in (Mullen’s) office for an official visit and he was selling the program to me,” Prescott said. “It was everything that I wanted to do.”