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By LEE ADAMS
MSU was a 19-point favorite going into Saturday night's battle of the Bulldogs, but Louisiana Tech must not have got the memo.
Louisiana Tech held the lead once and tied the game three times, but two late interceptions helped State pick up the 26-20 overtime win.
With the game tied at 20, Louisiana Tech had driven the ball down the field to MSU's 20-yard line, but decided to go the air when faced with a 3rd-and-5. Even though their passing game had been in sync for most of the game, Johnthan Banks picked up a big play for MSU by intercepting the pass in the end zone. As the game went into overtime, Nickoe Whitley ended Louisiana Tech's scoring chance with an interception of his own.
"I just did what my coach taught me to do when the ball came to me," said Whitley. "I could kind of tell that he was going to miss it so i reacted."
Whitley's interception meant all the Bulldogs would have to do to win was kick a field goal, but they wanted to try to get it into the end zone before settling for just three points. However, they wouldn't have to worry about sending the field goal unit out as Chris Relf connected with LaDarius Perkins in the back corner of the end zone for the game-winning 17-yard touchdown pass.
"At first I didn't know Relf had thrown the ball because I was looking at the opposite side of the field," said Perkins. "When I looked up again it was in the light and it was coming towards me so I knew that I had to catch the ball."
The win puts MSU at 2-2 this year and, as with any overtime game, it was a tough and well-played game by both teams.
"That was a hard-fought football game," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "Give Louisiana Tech a lot of credit, they played really hard; I thought their kids played hard and executed well.Â
"Our guys played hard and continued to play and fight for four quarters and beyond. When we needed to make a play, they stepped up and right there at the end and we finally made a play."
What got the game to the 20-20 tie that forced overtime was a mixture of big plays for both teams.
The biggest surprise of the night for many was the play of Louisiana Tech's 17-year-old quarterback Nick Isham compared to MSU's senior Relf.
Isham finished the game 29-40 for 233 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while Relf was 14-29 for 164 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"For a young quarterback to come in go 29-of-40 in a tough environment in the SEC on the road as a true freshman, you give him a lot of credit," said Mullen.
Mullen seemed impressed with Isham and noticed that Relf's performance wasn't where it should be for the most experienced quarterback in the SEC West, but was still happy with him making the game-winning pass.
"I don't think Chris played his best game today at all," said Mullen. "Give him credit, he stood in there under pressure and threw the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime."
Mullen didn't give Relf any extra motivational speech on the sideline before the final drive as he told him to "just go win the game. We're going to put it on you and you have got to win the game."
Mullen added "He knew it was on his shoulders to go perform and go win it and he did."
The game wasn't all offense and defense as the special teams got in on the scoring as well. Louisiana Tech's punter Ryan Allen blasted a 72-yard punt in the first quarter, but Chad Bumphis was on the receiving end of the punt and he returned it 82 yards for the game's first touchdown.
"That was a well-played special teams games," said Mullen. "It was great to see our guys make some plays on special teams."
Vick Ballard got in on the scoring in the second quarter on an 11-yard scamper on a 4th-and-1 play to give MSU a 14-10 lead at the time.
"I was just trying to get to the end zone," said Ballard. "I could smell it, well not really smell it, but I knew I was close. I knew I had to get it in."
Both Ballard and Perkins had good nights out of the backfield, but Ballard appeared to be more happy for Perkins.
"Perk made me so happy tonight," said Ballard. "I'm so happy for it because I wasn't playing my best game and he came in and filled in where I wasn't."Â
With Perkins and Ballard both having good nights, Mullen got the "balance" he likes to have.
"I like to have the balance between the two," said Mullen. "Perkins was running the ball pretty well tonight and we like to mix those guys up and we just happened to be balanced tonight."
Even though MSU didn't win by the margin they were picked to, Mullen is happy for the win and it proves just how hard winning can be.
"It's hard to win a Division 1 football game," said Mullen. "That's a huge win for us and huge momentum builder for our guys and it gets us back on the right track and where we need to be with a tough opponent coming up next week."
State will travel to Athens, Ga., next Saturday for an 11 a.m. showdown with Georgia.