By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State averted disaster, and Louisiana Tech once again had its heart shattered.
Chris Relf, who had a tough night, lobbed a 17-yard touchdown pass to tailback LaDarius Perkins in the first overtime to lift Mississippi State to a 26-20 win over pesky Louisiana Tech on Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium.
Just the drive before, with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in regulation and three timeouts to work with, MSU kept it on the ground as it started deep in its own territory. Then the defense came up with a second huge stop, as Nickoe Whitley intercepted a pass at the 3-yard line on Tech’s second play of overtime.
After an 8-yard Chad Bumphis run on first down, Relf found Perkins in the left side of the end zone, and MSU (2-2) avoided losing its third in a row to Louisiana Tech (1-3).
“I never thought that we would lose this game,” said Perkins, who had 47 rushing yards and 23 receiving yards. “It was hard at times, but I knew we were going to come through and pull through and get the W.”
It was another heartbreaking loss for Tech, which fell by two points to Southern Miss and blew a 34-7 lead to Houston earlier this season.
“We just have to learn from these games, improve and get better,” Tech coach Sonny Dykes said.
Tech was in field goal position when Johnthan Banks intercepted Nick Isham in the end zone with 2:32 left on the clock. It was Banks’ third pickoff of the season and 10th of his career.
Isham, the visiting Bulldogs’ 17-year-old freshman quarterback, had a stellar night except for his INTs.
Tech was in field goal position when Banks made his big play. On that drive, an Isham third down pass caromed off the hands of two Bulldogs and landed in the arms of Hunter Lee for a 28-yard gain.
“You’re thinking to yourself, come on, we’ve got to make a play,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “Step up, somebody’s going to come up and make the play. And from that point on, I think we made just about every play the rest of the game.”
Louisiana Tech was 9 of 20 on third downs, while MSU was 3 of 16.
State (2-2), coming off a pair of hard-fought SEC losses, rarely looked in sync on offense. It was out-gained by Louisiana Tech, 359-340, and Relf’s interception early in the fourth quarter led to a tying 28-yard field goal by Matt Nelson with 5:37 left.
Relf finished 14 of 29 for 164 yards, a TD and an interception. He rushed for only 20 yards on nine carries.
Mullen didn’t have any particular message for Relf in overtime.
“Naw, just go win the game,” Mullen said. “We’re going to put it on you. We’re still going. You’ve got to win the game.”
Relf was not made available for comment for the second consecutive game.
Chad Bumphis got the crowd of 55,116 buzzing when he returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring with 9 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first quarter. It was his first career punt return for TD.
Tech’s offense then found a good rhythm in the first half, answering with a 43-yard Nelson field goal.
Isham later directed an 80-yard scoring drive capped by Lennon Creer’s 4-yard run, giving the visitors a 10-7 just 43 seconds into the second quarter.
After that, however, MSU’s defense started getting to Isham. Tech went three-and-out on its next drive, then had two other possessions stymied by sacks.
MSU finished with four sacks of Isham, who was 29 of 40 for 233 yards, a touchdown and two picks.
After the three-and-out, State’s offense regained its touch, driving 71 yards in nine plays. On a fourth-and-1 from the Tech 11, the Bulldogs ran up to the line of scrimmage even more quickly than normal, and Ballard bounced it left for a go-ahead touchdown at the 8:45 mark.
Derek DePasquale’s 36-yard field goal gave MSU a 17-10 lead heading into halftime.