STARKVILLE — On a night when the Mississippi State football team’s offense struggled to find a rhythm, the special teams unit produced highlights Saturday night in a 26-20 overtime win against Louisiana Tech at Davis Wade Stadium.
Offensively, MSU averaged 4.7 yards per play on 73 snaps. However, the Bulldogs scored 14 points on special teams, including an 82-yard punt return by Chad Bumphis. Placekicker Derek DePasquale also added a pair of field goals.
“The punt return was a huge play, really huge play,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “Their kicker (punter Ryan Allen) kicked the ball too good. We had the return set up down the field. Chad made a couple of players miss. It was a huge momentum play early in the game.”
Allen averaged 45 yards on seven kicks. On Louisiana Tech’s first possession, the junior kicker boomed a 72-yard punt. Bumphis took the ball in at the 18-yard line and made the initial defenders miss.
“The punt return definitely gave us a spark,” MSU senior running back Vick Ballard said. “It was a tone-setter. A play like that can really spark a crowd, too. Fortunately, we made some plays there at the end to pull the win out.”
MSU won in overtime on a 17-yard pass reception from Chris Relf to Ladarius Perkins.
MSU received another solid punting performance from Baker Swedenberg. The sophomore, from Heritage Academy in Columbus, punted seven times for a 44.7-yard average. The Bulldogs had two punts go better than 50 yards, and two punts result in touchbacks.
A potential game-changer may have taken place early in the third quarter. The Bulldogs attempted a fake punt on fourth-and-1 from their 34. Perkins took the handoff on an end-around and was stuffed for no gain. Ballard had been stopped for no gain on third down.
Louisiana Tech took advantage of the short field, moving 34 yards on six plays. Nick Isham hit Quinton Patton for a 14-yard touchdown. The kick by Matt Nelson tied the game at 17.
For MSU, the coverage teams had another strong outing. The Bulldogs allowed 97 yards on four kickoff returns and minus-7 yards on two punt returns. Conversely, MSU had 81 yards in punt returns and 57 yards in kickoff returns.
“Our coverage teams played well tonight,” Mullen said. “In the kickoff return game, we did some things. Both punters really boomed the ball. The special teams’ game went back and forth. It was good to see our guys make some plays.”
DePasquale is 7 of 8 on field goals and 14 of 14 on extra points this season. The Woodlands senior drilled a 36-yard field goal prior to the half to give MSU a 17-10 lead. A 24-yard field goal in the third quarter gave MSU a 20-17 lead with 5 minutes, 21 seconds left in the third quarter.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.