Holmes’ strip, scoop, and score in the second quarter transformed what had been mere control into total domination as #4 Mississippi State thrashed visiting Vanderbilt 51-0. A lot of points were otherwise scored of course; rushing, passing, receiving, even kicking. Still when the Bulldog linebacker took his own forced-fumble all the other way home?
Take it from defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, as related by Holmes. “He just pretty much said Turtle, we needed that. Just to get it going, obviously we did need it.”
How badly the Bulldogs ‘needed’ this might be debated, since they already led 14-0 at the time. At the same time, the nature of such a play did inspire Holmes’ whole squad to greater energy and effort…not to mention deflate any Commodore dreams of a SEC upset.
The play also got something started, or re-started rather for a Dog defense which hasn’t been forcing turnovers too often of late. Holmes turned this trend. “After that I think Tolando (Cleveland) got the interception. And it was one more turnover that we had. So it was kind of a domino effect.”
Holmes tipped the first domino. Down two scores in as many MSU possessions, Vanderbilt was trying to start something, anything. On third down at the 37, quarterback Johnny McCrary found an open receiver for what was to be another first down. Except Latevius Rayford caught the ball in company and was first hit by State CB Jamerson Love.
Holmes had dropped into deeper coverage and saw Rayford evade MLB Benardrick McKinney. “Coach Collins just emphasized getting the ball all week, so it was my opportunity to make a play. I stripped it and the ball bounced right back to me. And I was just thinking again, run Turtle run!”
By ‘again’ Holmes, better known by his amphibious nickname, referred to that Kentucky on-sides kickoff he fielded and returned for a touchdown to seal State’s victory. In fact this ball was dropped in just about the same area of field as Holmes covers on kickoffs. But this time, Holmes was facing 180 degrees the other way and had to reach down for the ball. So he had to run a little harder and if possible faster.
“I kept looking at the pylon and the quarterback. I looked down and I was at the 20 and was like there’s no way he’s going to catch me. So I just dove in once again.” It was Commodore running back Ralph Webb with the last shot, at that corner, and he was too late as the world’s fastest Turtle got to the orange pylon first.
Holmes had a fine night in his regular linebacker job too, with seven tackles—one for loss—and a hurry. Little of that was recalled later, just his second return touchdown of the senior season. Which one was bigger or better? “This one tonight, I’d say. At home.”
Yes, in Holmes’ last home game. Senior Night brings out all the usual emotions, and in this case it was a great big grin for the camera before taking to the field. “I got the reaction I expected of the crowd. They came alive. It was loud, gosh!”
Holmes is certainly a crowd favorite, not to mention his teammates and position coach/coordinator. All encouraged the career-long backup and special teams specialist to return for his senior season, when Holmes had decided after 2013 it was time to get on with life and attend to family duties.
So no wonder Senior Night hit hard-shell Turtle in his softer spot as he lined-up for the run-out.
“Man, this really has been a ride. A roller coaster. I kind of wanted to cry, but I couldn’t do that! So I just smiled and ran out and got my son.” Then, he went out and got the ball and helped his team get a historic home victory. Afterwards the emotions returned as Holmes pondered that ride from 1A Puckett High School to a touchdown-scorer in the Southeastern Conference for Coach Dan Mullen.
“I’m glad he came and got me! And I’m glad I didn’t leave after that fourth year. I guess just the honor, who’d have ever thought somebody would come from Puckett, Mississippi to play in big-time games at Mississippi State? And he made a dream come true.”