Mississippi State's Escape
Cardiac Bulldogs Do It Again
Just before midnight on Nov. 4 Mississippi State senior defensive back Ashley Cooper was trying to explain the Bulldogs' Cinderella season, which had been kept perfect earlier that evening by a last-second field goal that gave Mississippi State a 23-22 victory over Kentucky. Suddenly his cell phone rang. On the other end was Florida State backup quarterback Marcus Outzen, who had been Cooper's teammate at Fort Walton Beach (Fla.) High. Outzen congratulated Cooper on the Bulldogs' win and kidded him about the possibility of Mississippi State playing the Seminoles in the national championship game in the Sugar Bowl. Three months ago the thought of the Bulldogs playing in any major bowl seemed preposterous. Now they're 8-0, and the notion isn't so far-fetched.
Granted, No. 8 Mississippi State would need a lot of help to reach the title game, but given the Bulldogs' three consecutive come-from-behind victories, fans in Starkville are starting to believe anything is possible. "Every week people say the heart can't take much more of this," Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill said after the Kentucky game, "but when you keep winning, your heart keeps pumping."
On Oct. 9 Mississippi State trailed Auburn 16-3 with four minutes remaining but rallied for an 18-16 victory. Two weeks later it erased a 16-11 deficit against LSU by twice converting on fourth down during a game-winning drive that ended with Rod Gibson's one-yard touchdown plunge with 1:39 left. Last week backup quarterback Matt Wyatt drove the Bulldogs 52 yards in the final 1:30 to set up Scott Westerfield's game-winning 45-yard field goal with only five seconds left on the clock.
The next three weeks will tell whether Mississippi State has so much as a prayer of playing for the national championship. After facing just two teams with winning records in their first eight games, the Bulldogs play at Alabama (7-2) and at Arkansas (5-3) and then host intrastate rival Mississippi (7-2). After that could come an SEC championship game against Florida. "Every game is a one-game elimination situation," says Sherrill. "I don't really know what's going to happen. All I know is we're still alive."