CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It took only one play from scrimmage for Mississippi State to make its opening statement Friday afternoon against North Carolina State in the 14th annual Belk Bowl.
And the Bulldogs continued their proclamations for the next three-and-a-half hours in thrashing the Wolfpack, 51-28, in the heave rain and mud at Bank of America Stadium.
Middle linebacker Gerri Green intercepted a short, Jacoby Brissett pass on NC State’s first offensive play as Brissett was pressured by defensive end Johnathan Calvin and MSU was off and rolling towards a 21-0 lead that the Wolfpack never could overcome.
“He made a good play on the ball,” Brissett said of Green. “I just have to do a better job of taking care of the ball and understanding the situation. We can’t do that to start the game off.”
The Bulldogs’ program-elevating quarterback Dak Prescott (25-of-42 for 380 yards passing, 12 carries for 47 yards rushing) needed just five snaps to fire the first of four touchdown tosses — a 14-yard missile to Fred Ross — and MSU (9-4) was soaring towards victory.
“That hurts to put your defense in that kind of field position right off the bat,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “When you get down (with the 21-0 deficit), it takes you out of your scheme.”
Capitalizing on the early turnover proved huge for Mississippi State.
“It’s very important, you have to respond quickly,” said Prescott. “It’s demoralizing to the other team.”
Mississippi State continued the heat on Brissett (12-of-28, 214 yards, one TD and two interceptions) the rest of the game, sacking the senior signal-caller five times and hurrying eight more of his passing attempts as the Bulldogs dominated the Wolfpack (7-6) in every aspect of the contest.
Outside linebacker Beniquez Brown led the Bulldog defense with a game-high nine tackles and two sacks, while strong safety Brandon Bryant added another interception.
Prescott found De’Runnya Wilson for 28 yards and the goal line and Ross motored 33 yards for another TD to complete MSU’s sizzling start.
“We came out and executed on all three phases (of the game),” Bulldog coach Dan Mullen said. “We didn’t let the weather bother us, or affect us on how we executed on offense (and) coming up and creating turnovers early in the game was huge.”
A couple of defensive busts allowed NC State to pull within 21-14 midway through the second quarter and another miscue cut the Bulldog advantage to 31-21 in the third period, but the Wolfpack couldn’t keep up with Prescott and company from there.
An 82-yard connection from Brissett to tight end Pharaoh McKeever and fullback Jaylen Samuels’ leaping, 48-yard scamper accounted for the first two NCSU scores.
Guard Justin Malone saved the Bulldogs from disaster when he recovered a Prescott fumble in the end zone for the touchdown that stemmed the Wolfpack’s second-quarter surge and Westin Graves added a 39-yard field goal before the end of the first half to give MSU its comfortable 31-14 edge at the break.
When Brissett answered for NC State with his three-yard scoring burst to cap a seven-play, 65-yard drive, Prescott answered with the march of the game, taking the Bulldogs 74 yards in 15 plays, burning over six minutes off the clock to make it 37-21 at the end of three stanzas.
Brandon Holloway came out of the backfield to haul in Prescott’s 10-yard TD aerial that ended the impressive drive.
Mississippi State tacked on two fourth-quarter scores to turn the game into a rout as Holloway burned the Wolfpack secondary for 55 yards for Prescott’s final touchdown pass and Aenis Williams rumbled 33 yards for another TD.
Brissett led NC State on a 17-play, 65-yard touchdown march in the final minutes, with Samuels finishing off the scoring with his second TD from one yard out.
Mississippi State finished with 569 yards of total offense, while limiting NC State to 424 yards.
Mullen had special praise after the game for his senior class, which he lauded for changing the Bulldog program into a winning culture.
“In 114 years of Mississippi State football, only six teams have won nine games,” Mullen explained. “To do it in consecutive years is really special. I feel like they have really changed what people think Mississippi Stat football is all about.”