STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) - In a game filled with big plays and turnovers, Mississippi State (7-2) held on for a 34-23 victory over UMass (2-7) at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday.
The Bulldogs won their fourth straight game. MSU jumped out to an early lead on the Minutemen, with J.T. Gray intercepting a UMass pass and returning it 58 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game. The two teams traded field goals back and forth until the second quarter when UMass got a pick-six of its own ot take a 13-10 lead early in the second period and it led 20-13 at halftime.
The back and forth momentum shifts continued into the second half, but MSU pulled ahead for good at 27-20 when it scored rushing touchdowns on back-to-back drives to start the third quarter.
UMass climbed to within four points on a 26-yard field goal with 8:18 left in regulation, but Bulldog Deddrick Thomas iced the victory for State two drives later by returning a punt 83 yards for a score.
Junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was the star of the day for MSU despite throwing two interceptions as he totaled 274 yards, rushing for 135 yards and two touchdowns and completing 14 of 25 passes for 139 yards. Junior running back Aeris Williams once again topped 100 yards on the ground, totaling 114 yards on 24 carries.
Meanwhile, freshman kicker Jace Christmann continued his stellar debut season, hitting two field goals and keeping his perfect field goal kicking percentage in 2017 intact.
Defensively, MSU was led by sophomore defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons with eight tackles and one quarterback hurry. Dezmond Harris added seven stops and Gerri Green had five tackles, 1.5 for losses, a quarterback hurry, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
State remains at home next Saturday, Nov. 11, welcoming No. 2 Alabama to Davis Wade Stadium in a huge SEC Western Division showdown. The game will kickoff at either 2:30 or 6 p.m. and be televised by either CBS or ESPN. The kickoff time and network are expected to be announced later tonight.
HEAD COACH DAN MULLEN QUOTES
"Great win by our team today. We've not really been in a lot of tight games this year. Coming in to today, we knew we were in for a battle. I knew all week we were playing an excellent football team. They come in and played with a chip on their shoulder. Head coach Mark Whipple is a great football coach, and I've known him for a long time. They have been outscored by five total points on the season, and there are teams that are 6-2 and have outscored opponents by two points. We knew we would have our hands full. They came in and did a good job, so give them a lot of credit. We came in and made some mistakes that you cannot make. We turned the ball over. We gave up explosive plays and penalties at critical moments during the game that killed us. I really am proud of how our guys battled for four quarters. They came out in the second half and continued to make plays. We found ways to make plays to win there at the end."
On MSU's first-half performance…
"We had a good week at practice. I don't know what it was; they are 18-22 year old kids. One of the things is you have to come out and continue to grind and play even better from one week to the next. I thought we prepared real well. We had a good week of practice. We came out and didn't perform to our standards in that first half. It happens for kids sometimes, but they buckled down for the second half."
On preparing for today's game versus next Saturday vs. Alabama…
"With college football being how it is today, if you don't bring your A-game there's a chance you're going to put yourself at jeopardy. I don't think for the whole game today that we brought our A-game. At times we really did, like the punt return at the end. When we needed returns we had returns. When we needed drives to start the second half, we had drives to start the second half. When we needed a stop on defense, we got a stop on defense. We played well, but were a little inconsistent at times, but that's college football."
On the blocking ability that Aeris Williams provides …
"When you look at him he has 24 carries and 114 yards. He might not get all the glory the other guys get, but he's the guy that makes it roll. In the game we know Aeris continues to carry the load opening up the explosive plays for us."