Frustrating result: MSU fights in tough SEC battle only to lose to Alabama

MSU running back Aeris Williams (22) stretches for extra yardage.
Staff Writer

For nearly a full decade, Mississippi State has been little more than a speed bump for perennial powerhouse Alabama.

Seemingly every season, the Crimson Tide deliver the Bulldogs a yearly beating.

For three and a half quarters on Saturday night, it appeared this was the year it all changed. It looked like No. 1 Alabama’s nine-game winning streak over No. 18 MSU would finally come to an end.

MSU led 24-17 early in the fourth quarter. State had mighty Alabama on the ropes. The Crimson Tide was reeling. However the Bulldogs couldn’t deliver the knockout blow.

Alabama scored 14 unanswered fourth-quarter points, including the decisive touchdown coming with only 25 seconds remaining, to come from behind and crush the dreams of Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs fell 31-24 and were left once again to put together the pieces after a loss to the Tide.

“It’s frustrating,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “Our guys played their tail off for 60 minutes.”

Most of the night, Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) did the things it needed to do to upset its foe from Tuscaloosa. Through three quarters, MSU out-gained Alabama on the ground 160-82 and dominated time of possession 33:31 to 11:29.

Running the football, stopping the run and controlling the clock helped the Bulldogs build themselves a seven-point lead by the time kicker Jace Christmann drilled a 25-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Inside Davis Wade Stadium, the cowbells were clanging as loudly as they had since MSU’s rise to No. 1 in the country three seasons ago, but the magic wouldn’t last.

Following Christmann’s field goal, Alabama put together a game-tying touchdown drive on its ensuing possession. Crimson Tide running back Damien Harris crossed the goal line on a 14-yard rush to even the score at 24-24.

After a flurry of dramatic events over the course of the game’s final 9 minutes, including an Alabama missed field goal that clanged off the uprights giving MSU a brief jolt of life, the Crimson Tide cemented their win with Jalen Hurts’ 26-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in the game’s waning seconds.

Perhaps fittingly in such a heartbreaking game for MSU, the play prior to the go-ahead score saw Alabama convert on a third and 15 from its own 43-yard-line. The Bulldogs blitzed on the play, but couldn’t quite get to Hurts and the Tide signal caller hit receiver Calvin Ridley on a 31-yard strike to set up the winning touchdown.

“It is very disappointing,” MSU safety Mark McLaurin said. “We came out here and played very hard. We just came up a little short. We fought so hard and just lost all the big plays.

“It was just a game of inches.”

Instead of experiencing the jubilation that looked imminent for much of the evening, Mississippi State was left to wonder what might have been. The Bulldogs put together an effort that, in many ways, was historic against Alabama and its head coach Nick Saban.

When MSU scored the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter to go up 7-0, it marked the first time the Bulldogs had a lead over the Crimson Tide since 2008.

In the third quarter, when MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald scored on a 2-yard run to put the Bulldogs up 21-17, State had its third rushing touchdown of the night – the first time Alabama had ever allowed three rushing scores in one game while under the guidance of Saban.

Still it wasn’t enough. Mullen was left searching for what else his team could have done to finish things out.

“If we did everything we could have done, we would have won the game,” Mullen said.

The result was much closer, but the reality was all the same in the end. This was yet another loss to Alabama. There’s little doubt this one might have hurt the Bulldogs more than most, but MSU insists it can’t and won’t sulk for long.

“We have to wake up (today) and then move on,” Fitzgerald said. “We have two more games left in the regular season. They’re must-wins, then we have a bowl game, so we have to keep moving forward. We can’t lean on this one.”