"I felt all along that this was going to be a great day in the history of Mississippi State football, but I had no idea that it was going to come down to that.
"And I really have to thank a lot of people. I have to thank God for these players, these coaches and all the things that have happened to us over the four years that we have been here. But especially this year. When we started this season, we talked to the players about treating this year as a journey with each other. And the most important thing when you go on a trip is the people you go with. And we have experienced a great journey this season because of the people that have been on this trip with us. Our coaching staffs is one of the best coaching staffs in the country. They are great people and good football coaches. They are teachers. They love these players and love this institution.
"Our seniors. This was a great senior class. And there are a lot of great players in there. What a great and unique group of people. When I thought about each one of them when I was in my office one evening, only one of them has ever been into my office for any kind of disciplinarian reason and that was class attendance. Through the whole process none of those seniors have ever had a discipline problem since they have been here.
"And a special thanks to the six guys who were here when I got here and chose to stay. When I started counting the number of players that were here and left ... and even some that we brought in that first year and left .... it is an endless number. But those six trusted and stayed and gave us great leadership - not good, but great leadership. And we are a better team - and will be a better team in the future - because they did.
"And I want to thank our fans for hanging in there with us when it looked like, after the LSU game, that we weren't going to be a very good football team. And I know a lot of negative things were said on the internet and all that kind of stuff, but I got a lot of letters - a lot of letters - from people who wrote and sent emails all year long that simply said we believe. It meant a lot to me.
"It has been a great year for me to see the growth of our players, not as a football team, but as people. That fourth quarter wasn't about football. That fourth quarter was about what is inside a young man's heart. We had been outplayed for three quarters. The only reason we won the game is because of what is inside of those young men. And I said when I came here until you get character you are not going to win. We've got character and we will continue to add talent to is. And we will continue our quest in the future to win the conference championship."
"I have been. I am really encouraged. Everything that I wanted to start to achieve when we came here is...
"Let me give you a little history. The first time I ever played in a game where we came from behind and won was my sophomore year when we played Tennessee. It was much like this one. We were down 10 to 7 with about 4 or 5 minutes left to go in the quarter. We got the game to 10 to 9. And (the late Alabama head) Coach (Bear) Bryant was going to go for 2 and Coach Dye talked him out of it and told him to go for the extra point because the defense was going to get the ball back under two minutes left and we were going to win the game. And that is exactly what happened. We kicked off, caused a fumble, got the ball back, the next play we scored a touchdown. That was the first game I had ever been in where we came from behind. And since that day it taught me to never give up.
"For me, I hated the day because I wanted the game over with in the first quarter. But I sincerely believe that God puts us in all situations to teach somebody something. J.D. Hamilton, until this season, has never had a winning season in his football career. So, what that means is he has probably never been in a game where he has come behind late like that. Now, I know what that meant for me when I was a sophomore in college. And I know what it will mean for J.D. Hamilton and a lot of other guys when they get out in life. When problems come, they won't quit because of what happened out there today. Because of what happened at Tennessee is why I haven't given up here. Because once you know how you can come from behind, once you do it one time, it's hard to quit because you are a winner. And a lot of guys in that dressing room became winners today."
What went through your mind when (Ole Miss head coach Orgeron) went for the first down on that fourth down in the fourth quarter?
"I was happy."
Were you surprised?
"I was happy."
Did you bring your punt team in, then have to scramble them back out?
"We thought they were going to punt the ball at first, but they decided otherwise and, I guess they assumed they were going to put the nail in our coffin right there. Sometimes you think you can do things. I got very tempted on a fourth and about six inches early in the game. The temptation was there, but you can't let your emotions dictate what you do. You have to be reasonable about things. (As an example) even I decided before we got down (by) one point in the second half, I said 'if we tie this game up I am going for two and win his game and get it over with.' But, as time went on, and we still hadn't scored, I changed my mind, we have to take it to overtime because it would not be fair to those kids not to give them a chance to win in overtime. And I don't like overtime. That's the reason my first thoughts were there. But, the way our players were hanging in there, I wasn't going to do anything not to give them every chance. I wasn't going to win or lose the ballgame with my decision. I was going to let them do it on the field."
Why did you decide to go for the field goal with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter?
"Because we were just in his range and we had the wind at his back. We were going to go for it anywhere from the 40-yard line in. Because I knew Adam (Carlson), with the wind at his back, had the range to hit it. We talked about it one time. A couple of guys wanted me to run another play and possibly get the ball closer and get it out of bounds. But I knew we were in range and I wasn't going to take a chance on a bad snap or him getting sacked and getting us out or range. Plus, (Ole Miss) didn't have any timeouts. That was a big factor. So, with the kickoff and everything else, I figured one play was all that was going to happen. And if we did a good job, I knew we were going to drop the kickoff down there where we would start at least on the thirty-yard line. But I knew we were range. And I'm so happy for Adam, because a year ago he left there with his head and heart in his hands. Now, he is a hero today. That's another example that you hang in there, your day will come. He almost hit it last year, he did it this year."
How big was it when the Ole Miss kicker missed the field goal in the first half?
"That was one of the first good things that happened to us. And we didn't have many good things happen to us. Early in the game, Tony (Burks) dropped a couple of balls. I was really worried all week and I tried to stay away from them. because I knew it was a big game. We tried not to talk about it being Ole Miss because I couldn't hide my feelings. I tried as best I could all week because I wear my emotions on my sleeve. And I probably got too much into it later in the week about what a big game this was because it was Ole Miss. The bowl thing was great and the winning season was great, but that fact that it was Ole Miss ... to me, it's no different than Alabama and Auburn. It's to that point with me for a lot of different reasons. But I was really worried that I got our guys so emotional that we weren't functioning properly. But at the half I told them that was the worst 30 minutes of football that we had played the entire year. We lost our poise early in the first half. We had some guys do a little bickering back and forth because frustration set in. But we got that squared away at the half and came back out and played.
Somebody will probably say that you didn't win the game, but that they gave it to you. How would you respond to that statement?
"I don't think anybody said that last year when we lost by 3 points with a quarterback who didn't even have his groin muscle on his bone. As far as I know, it was 20-17 and we lost the game by three points. So, they can say what they want to say. (But) Ole Miss has not won a conference game this year. And no matter how we got it, we won the game. (He hesitated, then proceeded to take another question.) Go ahead. I'll say too much."
Going to Michael Henig, then going back to Wesley Carroll, was that what you were looking for?
"We were just trying to see if we could get something positive going. And I think pulling Wes off the field right there gave him a chance to gather his thoughts and look at some things. And it wasn't that he was playing bad. We had several dropped balls and we we weren't blocking well upfront and we weren't running well. I was just trying to get some momentum going. That's why we went to the two-minute drill early because he did real well at it last went up at Arkansas. And he did some good things. But the turnover down there close, that's not Wes. I think he tried to force something. And we were going to go for a field goal down there if we got to a fourth down."
What is Anthony Johnson's injury status?
"Anthony is going to have to be operated on. He's done for the season. It's a break in his ankle."
Do you think you have your bowl bid now?
"Oh, I'm pretty sure we will get one. We will go somewhere. And we will enjoy it and have a good time wherever we go. We'll work and get ready to win the game. It's the one area I always differ with my former head coach in college (Bear Bryant). The four bowl games I went to were miserable. We are going to make this one fun for our players."
What will you do the next few weeks?
"All of next week we will do conditioning and lifting. Then, they get into finals and we won't do anything the week of finals. Then, we will get back together. And once we get the schedule lined up, most of our practices will be like our normal Tuesday practices. We will get all of our work done here before we leave and go to a bowl game. Everything will be prepared and done. The bulk of the work will be here. Then, when we get to the bowl game, most of the practices will be like our Wednesday and Thursday practices. It will not be spring practice for the guys who are going to play."
How did you do conditioning-wise carrying the MSU flag around the field?
"To be very honest with you, I'm very surprised what walking will do for you. Because that is the first time I have run this season. (Laugh from the media)."
Have you ever done something like that before?
"Not that I can remember. And I probably won't remember this tomorrow. (Laugh from the media.)"
Why did you do it because you were so overcome with emotion?
"I didn't go to do it. I just saw it there in front of me and grabbed it. I won't do it again. (Laugh from the media.)"
Was there a certain delight in the comment about Ole Miss not winning a conference game this season? And will recruiting come into this?
"Oh yeah, believe me, when we go recruiting, I am going to say that Ole Miss has not won a conference game this year. And I will make no bones about it. Nobody made any bones about it when we didn't win one. Hey, at least I will be telling the truth. (Laugh from the media.)"
I noticed when you got closer to the locker room, you were shaking your head. What were your emotions at that point and time?
"There have been quite a lot of things that have happened during the course of the season. And a lot of it has awed me. And ever now and then I just step back and watch.
"This has been the easiest year I've had since we have been here. I haven't done a lot of coaching. I'm involved in the offensive gameplan, but I let the offensive coaches call the game. I might have called two or three plays this year and most of them didn't work. But I let Woody and Ellis run the game. The other coaches put their suggestions in. I've been more of a head coach this year instead of the offensive coordinator. And I wanted it that way.
"The whole plan, at some point, was to let the coordinators do what they do and let me be the head coach and watch the players and make sure everything else is right to give us the best chance to win. That has been given me a lot of time to stand back and observe.
"And I've been amazed at some things. I've been amazed at the growth of these players. I've been amazed at the change in so many of them.
"Take a guy like Christian Ducre. If you had asked me this time last year I wouldn't think he would still be in this program. I think about the growth of Derek Pegues. The list goes on and on and on. Even Titus (Brown). Titus, his sophomore and early junior year, he was a borderline guy as far as his off-the-field conduct. Then, this year he received the highest number of votes for captain since he has been here. That tells me something. And to look at a freshman quarterback come in and get eight votes for captain this year. He's the first freshman to get votes for captain since we have been here.
"To see a team that was just beaten down after the LSU game and watch them bounce back from that, come out of the Tulane game and win. Then, we go up to West Virginia and get blown out in the first quarter and come back and play three great quarters of football. You sit there and sometimes wonder how do they do it. How do they keep fighting. It's amazing what a spirit of oneness and pride and character can do when they put it all together."
Why did you decide to kick the ball to them to start the game after you won the toss?
"Just before the game I didn't feel right. That's why we deferred. I wanted the ball coming out of the dressing room. And I sort of figured that they would take the ball and we would get the wind first. And I would get the ball coming out of the dressing room, which is what I wanted."
You talked about your journey and taking awhile to build your program. Do you feel like the program is on safe grown now? And are you ahead of schedule or about where you expected?
"I think we are a little ahead of schedule. To be honest with you, I thought that next year would be the first year that we had a winning season. And, especially, after early in the year I had no idea that we could have a winning season and become bowl eligible with a freshman quarterback. That's incredible. We lose these seniors, but we are going to have some good guys coming back. And we have some good guys committed. And we have a few that are left that we feel we are going to get in. Some of whom I feel can be impact players as freshmen. And we redshirted a good freshman class. So, we should be a better football team than we were this year."
(This is a similar question as one asked before but with a slighly different angle and answered differently.-Gene) When they went for it on 4th and 1 and you had three first downs at that point in the game, did you think they were giving you a chance?
"Well, I thought that our Christmas had come early. (Laugh by the media.)"
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.