Dogs’ day|Relf, Dixon lead MSU to upset of Ole Miss

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 29, 2009

STARKVILLE — Judging by the passion in Dan Mullen’s voice and the reaction of an ecstatic Bulldog crowd, there was little doubt which team wanted the Egg Bowl more.

Led by backup quarterback Chris Relf, who ran for 131 yards and one touchdown and threw for two more, Mississippi State pounded 20th-ranked Ole Miss 41-27 Saturday afternoon at Scott Field.

The win marks the third straight time Mississippi State (5-7, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) has beaten its archrival on its home turf.

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Mullen considered State’s 40th win in the 106-year-old series a bowl win.

“We’re certainly on the rise and we’re certainly one program in this state that is going in the right direction. This was a great day for our fans and a great day for our seniors. We played the toughest schedule in the country and we finished it as champions,” Mullen said.

Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4) is still likely to be headed to a New Year’s Day bowl game, but saw its chances of playing in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando — where the top non-BCS selection from the SEC goes — take a hit. The loss opened the door for either Arkansas or LSU to take that spot, and could send the Rebels to the Cotton Bowl for a second consecutive year, or send them to Tampa for the Outback Bowl.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt gave credit to State for its performance, but also said 11 straight weeks without a bye and two big home wins over Tennessee and LSU wore down his team.

“Eleven straight weeks of football is hard on any team and then to finish it up with Tennessee, LSU and then Mississippi State, I knew it would be tough,” Nutt said. “Give them credit. They ran it and we didn’t stop the run today.”

Mississippi State trailed 13-10 at the half but got the ball to start the third quarter and quickly tied in on Derek DePasqaule’s 48-yard field goal.

After a three-and-out by Ole Miss, the Bulldogs grabbed the lead for good, moving 70 yards in 13 plays. After a sluggish first half in which he gained only 17 yards on 10 carries, Conerly Trophy finalist Anthony Dixon got rolling. The senior had 116 yards in the second half and finished with 133, giving him the SEC rushing lead and Mississippi State’s single-season yardage record. He broke James Johnson’s 11-year-old mark by a mere seven yards.

Dixon scampered for a 22-yard gain to the Ole Miss 4. On third-and-goal, Relf crossed up the defense by throwing a 2-yard jump pass to Marcus Green for the score to make it 20-13 with 4:30 left in the quarter.

The Bulldogs’ Charles Mitchell then picked off the first of three Jevan Snead passes and returned it 21 yards to the Ole Miss 34. On fourth down Relf came up big again, hitting Chad Bumphis for a 34-yard touchdown.

Ole Miss wasn’t the same afterward.

“Chris can throw the ball,” Dixon said. “He showed today, he can be that dominant quarterback, if he just believes he can do it.”

Relf was just 3-of-5 passing for 43 yards, but two of his completions went for touchdowns. He also made a number of big plays with his feet after entering the game with seven minutes left in the first half.

He scrambled for 26 yards to set up Dixon’s 2-yard TD run in the second quarter, which gave MSU a short-lived 10-6 lead.

Despite having not played in a couple of mid-season games. Relf said he kept his confidence up.

“My dad always told me to keep my head in the game. I just kept working. And yes, today, was a great time to come in play well,” Relf said.

The Rebels did not play well.

Snead threw for 275 yards and had three long touchdown passes — 20 yards to Shay Hodge, who became the first receiver at Ole Miss with 1,000 yards in a season (1,023), 48 yards to Markeith Summers and 52 yards to Dexter McCluster — but was also intercepted three times. The last pick was returned 64 yards for a touchdown by Corey Broomfield, giving Mississippi State a 41-20 lead with 5:17 to play.

McCluster had the long touchdown reception off a screen pass, cutting it to 41-27 late in the game, but had his streak of four straight 100-yard games against SEC opponents snapped. McCluster was held to 82 yards rushing and 63 receiving, and lost a fumble in the first half.

“It is a sick feeling,” Nutt said. “It is not what we planned, but give Mississippi State credit. They did a good job. Did we do a good job of running the ball or not turning the ball over? I do not think so. You absolutely cannot turn the ball over, especially in a rivalry game like this.”


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