#24 Bulldogs Outlast Blazers 29-24

It was neither easy nor efficient. In fact things got more than a little frightening for the home side, which trailed with ten minutes left. But when push came to shove, Mississippi State had enough muscle to shut UAB down in the those remaining minutes…and a kicker able to take advantage of his second chances.

Derek DePasquale booted five field goals, three of them in the decisive fourth quarter, to provide #24 Mississippi State's margin of 29-24 victory over visiting and unranked Alabama-Birmingham. With their hard-earned win, the Bulldogs (6-2) assured themselves of both a break-even regular season and bowl eligibility with a whole month of remaining games. The Blazers left Scott Field 2-5.

But not until they had given most of the fourth-largest crowd ever at Davis Wade Stadium, announced at 56,423, a thorough fright. UAB showed no regard for Mississippi State's ranked status and in fact nearly made the team's first appearance in the polls since 2001 a short stay. They doubled the Dogs in offensive yardage through halftime, with a 10-10 intermission deadlock. And when Bryan Ellis dove across the goal line at 10:16 the Blazers showed their upset bid was serious with a 24-23 lead.

Even after DePasquale knocked his fifth and final three-pointer through there was still 1:48 left for UAB to ruin MSU's Homecoming. But eight seconds later Starkville native Pat Shed lost the kickoff return handle as Bulldog WR Michael Carr caught him from behind, and S Nickoe Whitley fell on the clean fumble. Four keepers by QB Chris Relf ran out the rest of the clock and let State exhale with more relief than celebration.

Coach Dan Mullen had warned all week that despite their record the Blazers had an offensive capable of keeping pace with SEC competition. In fact, Mullen was rather proud State held UAB to 354 yards on the night, well under their weekly average. Blazer quarterback Bryan Ellis, a pocket passer, produced 236 yards on 23-of-45 throwing with a touchdown and no interceptions. And he spread the ball around nicely with a pair of receivers getting five catches, another four, and yet another three.

What really had MSU's coach concerned though was not as much the opposition's offense as his own. The Bulldogs were starting short-handed and leading rusher TB Vick Ballard would not see the field all evening. His offensive line was iffy as well and rotation OG Tobias Smith also sat out the game; while center J.C. Brignone watched the first half. UAB noticed and came after Relf aggressively, and State's air game was disrupted more often than not. Relf was just 8-of-19 for 107 yards and one short-pitch touchdown.

That was to TB LaDarius Perkins, on a option sweep that might as well have been a rush. It was Perkins carrying Ballard's load. A week after getting just one tote at Florida, the redshirt freshmen received a season-most 18 runs and got 131 yards and a legitimate rushing score of his own. Relf added 51 net yards as State gained 271 on the ground…barely enough it turned out.

They key change for MSU came at halftime, when Mullen heeded pleas by Brignone. With his old hand at center, Quentin Saulsberry back at guard, the core line was intact and functioned far more effectively. An offense with just 103 yards in the first two periods had 171 yards in the third period alone. UAB also pinched towards that line, freeing the wings for State to use receivers Chad Bumphis, Brandon Heavens, and Carr as running backs for big gains that shifted the momentum at last.

State won the toss and deferred, and the Blazers put themselves in a modest hold with a blocking foul. On third down Ellis had to throw the ball away under pressure and the punt only went 29 yards. The Bulldogs had their own early penalty issue as new starting tackle Mark Melichar jumped the count on 3rd-and-7; and Relf's 3rd-and-12 attempt was tipped at the line. P Heath Hutchins' kick was fair-caught at the Blazer 15. Neither initial series had lasted a whole minute.

After a first down hold pinned UAB at their eight-yard line, the Blazers threw the first offensive flurry of the evening. Ellis converted one third down with a throw to Patrick Hearn, and State jumped 3rd-and-1 for a free first down at midfield. Frank Forrest pulled in a 22-yard strike and on 3rd-and-5 Mike Jones got in front of CB Johnthan Banks for a 14-yard gainer down to the three-yard line.

Penalties by both sides left the Blazers at the four; Shed got three of that, then Justin Brooks tripped himself in the backfield to fall barely a foot shy of the goal. Yet with the ball spotted that tantalizingly close, UAB blinked and settled for a field goal at 6:05. They surely regretted such caution later on.

Maurice Langston's 29-yard return spotted the Bulldogs on their 39, and Relf found TE Brandon Henderson for a fast eleven yards to the midfield stripe. On second down Perkins used a crushing block by FB Patrick Hanrahan and scampered 30 fast yards. Two snaps later Relf read support rightly and called his own number for a nine-yard scoot to the four. On 3rd-and-goal there, all the blocking flowed right but Relf and Perkins ran to the left, unsupported. When coverage came up on Relf he flipped, forward, to Perkins for an official four-yard touchdown pass at 2:15.

Starting at their 37, the Blazers produced a couple of quick first downs that had them on the Bulldog side of the field as the quarters changed. Consecutive two-yard losses aborted the drive and S Charles Mitchell hammered Hearn on a short catch. So UAB punted into the end zone at 13:45.

Relf had WR Arceto Clark coming open across midfield and led him too far. Another incomplete and short keeper had State punting it back. But intentional or not, Hutchins' kick wobbled and surprised Blazer Jackie Williams by going through his hands for a fumble recovered by snapper Aaron Feld at the 36-yard line.

The chance seemed about to be wasted as two plays lost a net yard. But on 3rd-and-11 Relf found Clark for 22 yards, and the quarterback punched out six and nine more yards on his own initiative. Relf did overthrow Bumphis on third down though, so State settled for a 29-yard field goal from DePasquale at 8:42.

Shed kick-started another drive with a 13-yard catch, and State was flagged for a downfield hold on an overthrow that added an automatic first down at State's 47. The Blazers soon stalled as on third down S Zach Smith blitzed Ellis into incompletion, but the punt was caught by Ugonna Amarikwa at the one-yard line.

Elliott did well to avoid a safety on first down, and Relf only got out as far as the six before Hutchins was summoned to punt out of the end zone. He crushed the ball 55 yards, sending Jones running backwards; and the Blazers drew no less than three flags on a block in Feld's back. So UAB was on their 26, then the 23 after Shed was corralled by DE Sean Ferguson. A timeout later Ellis was blind-side sacked by DT Josh Boyd.

Bumphis returned the punt 15 yards back to UAB's 42. But the chance was not used as Perkins was swarmed for a loss of four on third down. Hutchins' punt was well placed but not covered so the Blazers took over on their 16 with 99 seconds to be played. It would be enough.

Shed burst left end for 14 yards, and Hearn advanced the ball to the 46 with a sideline catch. Shed moved the chains again with a short rush, and Williams found that same opening on the right sideline for 17 more yards to State's 26-yard line. The Blazers used a timeout on second down and had 3rd-and-10 at 0:33. Another Smith blitz forced Ellis to throw it away but Banks was called for a personal foul after the play, for free first down on the Dog 13 with 26 ticks left. On second down Forrest made the sideline (left this time) grab at State's four, with 0:14 on the clock and no timeouts left.

They didn't need any, because CB Corey Broomfield and Whitley let Jones run unmolested by him for the easy end zone catch at ten seconds for a 10-10 halftime tie.

Both offenses maximized their first turns of the new half for touchdowns. Langston gave State starting position at their 37, and wideouts turned tailbacks for consecutive carries of 20 yards (Michael Carr) and 21 more (Bumphis). On 3rd-and-8 Perkins let his blocking develop before charging through left guard for 18 yards down to the Blazer two. Perkins did the touchdown honors squirming through right tackle at 12:23.

But Brauchle's kickoff was badly awry for free starting position at the Blazer 40. On second down Jones had first down already with his catch, but three tacklers knocked each other off the receiver and Jones had to be knocked out at the Bulldog 14-yard line after a 42-yard gainer. Ellis crawled for first-and-goal at the two-yard line, and Borne tied it up at 10:00 even.

WR Heavens made two big plays to the same left sideline; first an end around run for 19 yards, then hauling in Relf's throw over corner Jamie Bender for another 40 yards to the Blazer 14. On 3rd-and-8 a pitch to Perkins netted nothing so Brauchle made it 20-17 with his 29-yard field goal at 7:09.

His kickoff was better but MSU tackling was terrible, with Shed bouncing out to the 50-yard stripe. A Williams catch had the Blazers on the 38, and on 3rd-and-5 at the 33 Mullen saw only two defenders were matched on three wide receivers and called time at 5:28. Ellis underthrew his man, and UAB went for it on 4th-and-5 S Wade Bonner roared through for a sack and fumble, though the ball bounced around to the 31-yard line before MSU's LB Chris White recovered.

Not that they made much of the exchange with Relf stopped for no gain on 3rd-and-1. State lined up for a fourth-down gamble with Perkins at wild back, but Henderson jumped the snap count so Hutchins got to punt after all. And blooped it for just 31 yards. Fortunately for State, Hearn dropped an open catch that would have moved the chains and Ellis threw it away on third down.

Starting at their 19 this time, the Bulldogs got some fast first downs as Clark made 15 yards on a first-down throw; then Bumphis ran down to the 47-yard line on a swing throw with 15 more tacked on as he was tackled out of bounds. Henderson floated free on third-and-ten for a catch-and-run to the 27. State had to settle for DePasquale kicking it through from 43 yards for a 23-17 lead.

UAB was not rattled, and manufactured a 11-play surge to take that last lead. They had help in the form of a facemask penalty for first down at MSU's 39, but there was nothing cheap about Ellis' sharp tosses and Shed's harder running. After review overturned a touchdown call for Shed, Ellis did the job himself with a scoring sneak at 10:16.

Now all the pressure was on the home team, though UAB gave a kick-start by hammering LB Emmanuel Gatling on his fair-catch of the high kickoff. This let State start at the Blazer 42 but soon it was 4th-and-4. Mullen didn't hesitate and let Relf do his thing. The quarterback pulled it down, bulled close to the needed mark and was knocked across it by his tackler at 9:02.

The next fourth down, needing two, was judged close enough for DePasquale. He was good on the 39-yarder at 6:53 to put State ahead again. To stay, too, though not without more drama. UAB netted one first down, then on 3rd-and-7 tried to pick on Banks again; this time the cornerback got in front of Forrest for a break-up and UAB punted.

The big break was from Perkins as he got outside containment and took off down the right sideline for a 51-yard tear to the Blazer 29. He got nine more as State forced the tempo now, but too much so as the tailback didn't clear the huddle fast enough to avoid a participation penalty. Relf and Robert Elliott still managed to get another set of downs on an option-left, and while MSU curiously threw a second down pass—incomplete, stopping the clock—DePasquale made it a six-point game with his 28-yard chip shot at 1:48.

Brauchle's kickoff was to the goal line and Shed hesitated before starting upfield. He missed the first wave but soon wished he'd gone down, because Carr caught him from behind for the strip and Whitley's clean recovery at the 33. After UAB used their last timeout at 0:46, Relf ran ten yards for the first down…and out of bounds. The error proved painless as a kneel-down rolled the clock.

Besides his fumble recover, White had a career-high 14 tackles; with nine more for WLB K.J. Wright and eight for Banks. UAB's Jamie Bender had a dozen tackles.

The Bulldogs scored their first sweep of non-conference games since 1999, and the first four-win record in non-SEC action since 1990.


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