Bulldogs cut down the Lumberjacks

Published 11:16 pm Saturday, September 1, 2018

STARKVILLE (AP) — Keytaon Thompson threw for 364 yards and five touchdowns, Mississippi State had 17 tackles for a loss, and the 18th-ranked Bulldogs cruised to a 63-6 victory over Stephen F. Austin on Saturday night in the season opener.

Joe Moorhead won his first game as Mississippi State’s head coach, and the playbook showed some of the downfield passing prowess he’s promised over the past months. The Bulldogs had completions of 53, 84, 27 and 30 yards for touchdowns.

“I don’t think we could have scripted a better start,” Thompson said.

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Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound sophomore, made his second career start. He was pressed into action after senior Nick Fitzgerald was suspended for the season opener for a “violation of team policy” that Moorhead said happened in March. Fitzgerald will return for next week’s game at Kansas State.

The Bulldogs appeared unfazed by that bit of adversity and the program won its 14th straight game over an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision level.

Thompson also ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He was 13-of-31 passing.

Mississippi State’s offense had success from the moment it stepped on the field. The first play was Thompson’s short swing pass to Kylin Hill, who knifed through Stephen F. Austin’s defense and ran nearly untouched for a 53-yard touchdown.

“I’ve got the easy part,” Hill said. “Just run.”

Later in the first quarter, Thompson found a completely uncovered Osirus Mitchell for an 84-yard touchdown, which was the longest pass completion for the Bulldogs in 14 years. Thompson said Mitchell was so open he had to look twice to make sure he wasn’t missing a defender.

“It looked like he dropped out of a helicopter back there,” Thompson said.

Mississippi State built a 35-3 lead by halftime, gaining 400 total yards. The second half was much less impressive, but by then the outcome wasn’t in doubt.

“Great to get our first win and get off on the right foot,” Moorhead said. “Thought we did some very good things on offense, defense and special teams. But certainly a lot to clean up moving forward.”

Stephen F. Austin made two field goals and had 254 total yards. Foster Sawyer was 10-of-27 passing for 147 yards. The Lumberjacks will hope for better results when they face Division II Tarleton State next weekend.

“We gave up some big plays on mental errors,” Stephen F. Austin coach Jeff Byrd said. “Anytime you have a quarterback run element like that, it really stretches you. It makes you play assignment football, and we were obviously outmanned.”