By MATTHEW STEVENS
OXFORD – The roles may have reversed before the game but the result was still the same a year later as Mississippi State brings the Golden Egg trophy back to Starkville.
Mississippi State fans have seen this script before as they used the speed of tailback LaDarius Perkins and the quarterback play of junior Chris Relf to defeat Ole Miss in a 31-23 fashion for its first two-game winning streak in the Battle for the Golden Egg matchup since the 1998-99 seasons.
“We're going to bring this trophy right back to where it belongs,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “It's got a nice trophy case right in our building there. To send our seniors out like Egg Bowl champions just like we did last year is huge thing."
With the victory, Mullen becomes the first Mississippi State head coach to win his first two Egg Bowl games since Allyn McKeen accomplished the feat in the 1939-40 seasons.
After the victory, Mullen hugged university president Mark Keenum, athletic director Scott Stricklin and his wife Megan at midfield as the stadium had just State fans left in it.
After the team sang the school fight song with the band, Mullen took a victory lap giving Bulldog fans a high-five around the north end zone.
“That’s what rivalry games are all about,” Mullen said. “I promise you they’ll always get our best shot every single year. It’s something that’s really important to me and we make an emphasis of it.”
Records were being broken all evening long as MSU junior tailback Vick Ballard was held in check by the Ole Miss defensive front but his third-quarter touchdown from eight yards out broke the school’s single-season touchdown mark and tied the rushing touchdown mark both set by Jackie Parker in 1952.
Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4 in Southeastern Conference) got a career-high 238 total yards from Perkins as the redshirt freshman busted several big plays on an Ole Miss defense that has been susceptible to being gashed like that throughout the 2010 season.
Late in the second quarter, Perkins’ touchdown receptions turned an early 9-7 deficit into a 21-9 advantage as both teams entered the locker room.
Perkins second touchdown followed a big momentum turn after Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7) failed on a fourth-down conversion giving the 25th-ranked Bulldogs excellent field position that 41 seconds later would turn into a play where Perkins nearly walked into the end zone after getting in the open field.
“This game showed what I can do in open space,” Perkins said. “All you got to do is stay patience and things will happen for you.”
Perkins’ 319 all purpose yards were the second most in school history and the most since Nick Turner had 344 at Tennessee in 2003. This was one week after the Greenville native got one carry in last week’s home loss to Arkansas.
Through three quarters State had 226 more total yards in the same amount of plays and Relf had already eclipsed a career-high passing total with 270 yards and three touchdowns to go with only two turnovers that didn’t produce any Ole Miss points.
“It's been a tough season,” Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. “I hate it for the seniors. The only thing I know to do is go back to work. We knew this would be a challenging year, but we didn't expect this."
Relf had 174 total yards and three touchdowns in last year’s 41-27 Egg Bowl victory in Starkville that resulted in his breakout game. In 2010, the 240-pound junior silenced the 58,625 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium by more than doubling that total with 354 total yards with 288 of it through the air. The passing yards were the most in school history since Wesley Carroll tossed it around for 421 against Arkansas in 2007.
“I feel like I made a lot of good throws but also feel like I could’ve done a whole lot better,” Relf said. “I’m just always confident. I think coach just wanted to see me pass tonight.”
Ole Miss’ comeback effort intensified with two touchdowns in the final quarter but were unable to drive the length of the field when its offense got the ball back with 2 minutes left in the contest.
In his final game in Oxford, Rebels quarterback Jeremiah Masoli finished 24-of-44 for 261 yards but had an interception and was sacked three times.
“I thought the absolute key to the game was stopping the run game,” Diaz said. “Masoli is a heck of a player but ultimately if you’re one-dimensional then it’s hard to win a football game that way.”
With the victory, Mullen seemed to indicate his squad would be likely invited to the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve at the Georgia Dome.
“One of my goals for the season was to get the opportunity to go to Atlanta,” Mullen said with a smile. “Maybe we’ll get that opportunity now, maybe just a couple weeks later than we wanted.”
While they wait for the announcement on where they will be playing a postseason game for the first time since 2007, State will begins its bowl game practices on Friday, Dec. 10.