September 9, 2017 – Contributed by: Malcolm Butler, LA Tech Associate Athletics Director of Media Relations
RUSTON – Mississippi State scored 36 consecutive points during the first half thanks to a variety of Louisiana Tech mistakes as the SEC Bulldogs topped the C-USA Bulldogs 57-21 before 28,100 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday night.
The attendance marked the second largest in the history of the stadium, trailing only the 28,714 fans at LA Tech’s game vs. then-NLU in 1997.
“I thought (Mississippi State) was excellent tonight,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “I hate the mistakes that we made. The things we did — we shoot ourselves in the foot, which makes it very difficult to beat a very talented SEC team like Mississippi State with what they did. Just proud of the way our players competed, but certainly I’ve got to do a better job as a head coach, and we’ve got to do a better job protecting the football.”
LA Tech (1-1) appeared poised to pull off an impressive win early as the Louisiana-based Bulldogs took an early 9-0 lead in the first quarter. Highlighted by a 58-yard hookup between Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith and Marcus Gaines, Tech drove inside the Mississippi State 10-yard line before stalling. Jonathan Barnes booted a 27-yard field goal with 13:21 to play in the first quarter to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead.
The Bulldogs from Ruston once again struck with the big play later the first when the true freshman cornerback Amik Robertson picked off Nick Fitzgerald and returned it 62 yards to the 2-yard line. A few plays later, Kam McKnight punched it in from the 1-yard line to extend LA Tech’s lead. A blocked point-after attempt by Jonathan Barnes made it a 9-0 lead for Tech with 6:46 remaining in the first quarter.
On the next drive, a Mississippi State field goal cut LA Tech’s lead to six, but the momentum shift followed quickly behind after Mississippi State blocked a punt and recovered for a touchdown, followed by an interception that resulted in a 17-yard drive and another six points for the Bulldogs from Starkville.
“Like I said, I thought we made mistakes,” said Holtz. “We have nobody to blame but ourselves for the amount of turnovers we had, and then just some of the mistakes we made. I thought our defense competed. I thought we ran the ball, but we didn’t play well on the perimeter in throwing and catching the ball.
Mississippi State added 20 points in the second quarter. A fumble recovery set up a two-play, 14-yard drive for a score and then a highlight reel 30-yard TD scamper by Nick Fitzgerald upped the advantage to 30-9. The SEC Bulldogs then drove 76-yards on 11 plays, capped by a 21-yard pass from Fitzgerald to Gabe Myles. Tech blocked the extra point and Robertson returned it the length of the field for two points to make it 36-11.
Barnes added a 45-yard field goal as the first half expired for Tech to cut the deficit to 36-14 at the half.
Any chance of a Tech comeback was doused early in the third quarter as Fitzgerald scored on a 44-yard run 33 seconds into the stanza and Jeffery Simmons returned a Smith fumble 90 yards for a score at the 9:48 mark of the third. Miss State led 50-14.
Tech had an opportunity to score early in the fourth quarter. On second down and goal to goal from the Mississippi State six-yard line, a shotgun snap sailed high over Smith’s head. As both teams chased down the ball, it was accidently kicked numerous times towards the opposite end of the field. Tech finally recovered on its own seven-yard line, for a team rush loss of 87 yards.
“Like I said, it was a frustrating night for sure,” said Holtz. “We lost 122 yards into the total yards on the night. If we don’t have minus (87) on a snap when we get down there. We get down there another time, turn the ball over, fumble, they score with it. We get outgained by 140 yards tonight and lose 120, 87-some of them on that play.”
Kylin Hill capped Miss State’s scoring with a 2-yard run late in the third. Tech scored a late touchdown on a 9-yard strike from Westin Elliott to Zach Cousar with 15 seconds to play in the game.
Boston Scott rushed for 96 yards and Jarred Craft added 81 yards on the ground for Tech. However, the Bulldogs completed just 13-of-30 passes on the night for 163 yards. Gaines led the Tech receivers with 104 yards on three receptions.
“I thought our players competed,” said Holtz. “I was encouraged with the way we ran the ball, and I thought our offensive line did a really nice job in having two seniors like Jarred Craft and Boston Scott.
Brandon Durman led Tech with eight tackles while Robertson added four tackles, one TFL and his first career interception.
“There are a lot of questions about this team,” said Holtz. “We talked about feast or famine, and I thought we saw some of the goods tonight and saw some of the bads tonight. I keep talking about I don’t know what to expect. I’ve got some seasoned, experienced players that I really feel good about, and I’ve got a lot of guys that have played in their second college football game tonight.”
LA Tech will hit the road for the first time next week when the Bulldogs open up Conference USA play against WKU at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16 in Bowling Green.