Duval's three points gave the Tigers a thrilling 16-14 victory over the Bulldogs.
"It wasn't that (we) didn't play hard," Bulldog Coach Jackie Sherrill said. "It's not that (we) didn't give effort. The problem that we had was we didn't make plays at the end of the game. We just didn't finish."
The loss put the Bulldogs at 0-3 in SEC play and, according to Sherrill, put the Tigers, who improved to 3-0, "in the driver's seat" for the SEC West title.
Safety Pig Prather and his Bulldog teammates came up just short in their bid for five straight wins over the Auburn Tigers.
Sherrill couldn't point his finger at one specific unit of the Mississippi State team that failed to make a play late in the game. He admitted that it was all three--the offense, the defense and the special teams.
The offense went first. With six minutes remaining on the clock, Mississippi State took possession on its own 25-yard line with a 14-13 lead and a chance to seal the game if Wayne Madkin could direct a long drive and keep the clock running. (The Tigers had just one timeout remaining.) A first-down pass fell incomplete, a second down run by Dicenzo Miller gained just four yards and Madkin was sacked for a four-yard loss by Auburn's Karlos Dansby and Spencer Johnson. The Bulldogs were just 3-for-13 on third down conversions throughout the game.
"We pretty much were trying to control the ball and the clock," Bulldog receiver Justin Jenkins said. "There just weren't enough big plays, no first downs. Those are things you need to win a game. You need those throughout the game." Jenkins caught a 37-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter and hauled in the two-point conversion which gave the Bulldogs their lead. at 14-7.
Madkin and company could only run 1:37 off the clock on their final chance to ice the game with the football and the lead. When the special teams took its turn Bulldog punter Jared Cook rushed his punt after a high snap. It only netted 36 yards and gave the Tigers solid field position on their own 40-yard line. AU had 4:23 left to try and pull out the victory.
"We had plenty of chances at the end of the game offensively, defensively and in our kicking game to make a play, but we didn't do it," Sherrill said.
After the offense and special teams failed to make the necessary plays to pull out the victory, the defense followed suit. After seven straight running plays on the Tigers' final drive, it was obvious Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville was setting up a possible game-winning field goal attempt by Duval and was not risking a pass into the end zone. Auburn grinded out 30 yards on those seven plays and, importantly, also chewed 4:05 off the clock which meant Duval's kick was going to be the deciding factor in the game.
Mississippi State defensive end Conner Stephens, who was on the sidelines for the final kick, said he hoped Duval would somehow shank it. "He's a great field goal kicker," Stephens said. "We kind of knew if he got in the 50-yard range or lower that it would be a perfect field goal."
The kick was close enough to perfect for Auburn's liking. Duval's 47-yarder cleared the crossbar with a huge amount of room to spare.
After Roderick Hood intercepted a desperation Madkin pass to end the game, the Bulldogs suffered their fifth-consecutive conference loss dating back to last year. Now, a season which had high expectations just over a month ago has quickly gone awry. "It hurts," Madkin said. "I remember a lot of times when we pulled out these games against Auburn. It was tough luck. We lost the game in the last 20 seconds." Two years ago at Jordan-Hare Stadium, State quarterback Matt Wyatt threw the game-winning touchdown pass vs. Auburn into the same end zone where Duval kicked the game-winner on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs said they aren't ready to give up on the 2001 season just yet, but Sherrill and his senior quarterback admitted after the game that they will have to reevaluate the team's goals. "You certainly do," Sherrill said. "The season is a long ways from being over."
Madkin recalled that the Bulldogs beat Auburn last season and the Tigers went on to represent the SEC West in the conference's championship game. So, he said "anything is possible." That is true, but Madkin was quickly reminded that no team with three conference losses has ever made it to the championship game.