DAWGS BEAT MISSISSIPPI STATE 22-14
RUSTON, La.--It certainly wasn't pretty.
But Derek Dooley and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will most definitely take it.
In a game that featured eight turnovers and 14 punts between the teams, Louisiana Tech's defense dug in its heels in the second half and got three clutch field goals from senior Brad Oestriecher, defeating the Mississippi State Bulldogs 22-14 on Saturday night at Joe Aillet Stadium.
"I was really proud of the team," Dooley said. "We faced so much adversity with turnovers in the red zones. It was something we had talked about all week. But they kept fighting, kept believing and they grinded out a victory."
Tech (1-0) made the most of MSU's visit, the first by a current member of the Southeastern Conference to Joe Aillet Stadium, as 25,224 packed the stands to watch Tech's first victory over an SEC school since a 1999 win at Alabama.
"Our team overcame some demons tonight," Dooley said. "This team had a lot of confidence in themselves. I had a lot of confidence in them for this game. Mississippi State is a good-looking squad. It was tough. We kept coming back, kept swinging, and good things started happening."
Oestriecher had field goals of 48, 28 and 50 yards, setting his career long and also the first time that the senior has had multiple field goals in a single game.
"Coach has talked to me a lot about kicking with confidence, be calm and relax," Oestriecher said. "This has been a long process...I've been here 5 years, and I've been waiting for this moment for a long time. My patience paid off."
MSU (0-1) held a 14-3 lead with under two minutes to play, and Tech was forced to punt after a three-and-out near midfield. In what turned out to be a key play in the game, Chris Keagle's kick was downed inside the MSU 1, after which the other Bulldogs had to punt following their own three-and-out.
Phillip Livas took Blake McAdams' punt 28 yards back to the State 13, where Patrick Jackson atoned for an earlier interception by taking a six-yard pass from Taylor Bennett just inside the near pylon for a momentum-changing touchdown. Oestriecher's extra point attempt was blocked, but Tech went to the locker room down only by a 14-9 margin.
Tech then seemed to catch a huge break as State fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, but an interception in the end zone thwarted the Tech drive. The teams then traded punts, but Keagle's 54-yard bomb was muffed by State's Jamayel Smith and then recovered inside the MSU 10 by Anthony Harrison.
Five plays later (which included a personal foul penalty), Jackson plunged in from six yards out for his second score of the day, and Oestriecher's kick gave Tech its first lead at 16-14.
MSU would put together a 10-play drive that got them inside the Tech 20, but Wesley Carroll's third-down pass was picked off by Deon Young at the 8. He returned it 42 yards to midfield, then Tech benefited from a late hit penalty that put the ball at the 35 with time winding down in the third.
Tech chipped away for six plays before Oestriecher's 28-yard field goal boosted the lead to 19-14 as the third quarter came to a close.
Again in the fourth quarter, Tech's defense dug in, not allowing a single first down for Mississippi State and the offense put together a 16-play drive that consumed more than seven minutes and culminated in a 50-yard field goal by Oestriecher. It was the longest of his career and the longest for Tech since 2003 when Josh Scobee kicked a 52-yarder at Tulsa. More importantly, it gave Tech an eight-point advantage at 22-14.
"It was a great drive," Livas said. "It was an old-fashioned drive. We stayed patient with the run, the backs ran hard and we had a couple of third and firsts."
State caught a big break when on a fourth-down punt, the kick hit Tech defender Stevon Howze in the back as he was trying to get out of the way. MSU recovered and had great field position. However, a sack, a short gain and an incompletion forced the other Bulldogs to punt again with only one timeout left.
Tech got the ball with 3:23 to play and was able to milk all but eight seconds before punting on the final play. The Bulldogs swarmed the returner as the clock hit triple zeroes, and the celebration was on.
"Here we are at the last three minutes to go in the game," Dooley said. "It doesn't matter what happens. This is the hand you are dealt. Go out and make a big play."
Taylor Bennett had a rough opening game as a Bulldog, going 14-of-40 for 175 yards with one interception and one touchdown. But most of his completions went for big gains, including a 39-yard dash by Josh Wheeler on a crucial third down play.
"These guys are in the SEC...this is good defense," Dooley said. "It was Taylor's first game. He had one bad play, that interception. He wasn't as accurate as he needed to be."
Patrick Livas was the beneficiary of most of Bennett's passes with six catches for 85 yards and also rushed twice for 16. Patrick Jackson had 17 carries on the night for 62 yards.
Antonio Baker led the defensive effort for Tech with 10 tackles on the night and an interception. Kwame Jordan, in his first game for the Bulldogs, had five tackles including a sack and two tackles for loss.
With a trip to their second BCS conference opponent in two weeks approaching next Saturday, Dooley and the Dawgs don't have time to get too excited.
"You can't get too excited, even though we're going to celebrate this win. I always preach consistency. One game doesn't make a team. Good programs go week to week."
Tech's kickoff at Kansas is set for 6 p.m. next Saturday in Lawrence, Kan. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net.