STARKVILLE, Miss., - Dan Mullen had no reservations of his intentions to embrace the Egg Bowl rivalry.
The first-year Mississippi State head coach made Bulldog fans proud bringing the Golden Egg Trophy back to Starkville with a convincing 41-27 win over No. 20 Ole Miss on Saturday.
"This program is on the rise," Mullen said to a stadium full of 55,365 fans. "To the contrary of what other people are saying in this state, I know one program that is on the rise and that is right here in Starkville."
MSU (5-7, 3-5) trailed 13-10 at the half but fired back with 31 second half points to pull away from their instate rival.
"We have been counting down to this game and they put in the effort," Mullen said. "They only had 30 minutes to play and they were determined to leave it on the field."
The Bulldogs made up for last season's 45-0 shutout in Oxford where they managed only 37 yards. The State offense rolled up 412 yards on the day including 317 yards on the ground.
The Bulldogs had two players eclipse the 100-yard plateau with senior running back Anthony Dixon picking up 133 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries while sophomore quarterback Chris Relf providing 131 yards on 15 carries and a score.
Dixon set the school single-season rushing record on the day passing James "J.J." Johnson to finish the year with 1,391 yards.
"He holds the career rushing record, single-season rushing record and single-game rushing record at Mississippi State," Mullen said. "I think he is now leading the SEC and I know everybody talks about the Heisman Trophy and he is leading the SEC in rushing on a team that played the toughest schedule in the country. I haven't heard many people even mention his name for awards.
"I think it's really special for him to leave that way, to leave a winner and a champion in this program. I'm really proud of everything that he's done. I know he will have a great football career ahead of him but I'm really proud of everything that he has done for us here at Mississippi State."
Relf interchanged with Tyson Lee for most of the first half but took over in the second and led Mississippi State to victory. Relf also completed 3-of-5 passing for 43 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"We were going back and forth there and Chris kind of got it rolling," Mullen said. "Once he got it rolling and got a feel for what is going on we were able to run the football. They had 11 guys on the line of scrimmage and we were still able to run the football. When Chris got in the flow we just decided to stick with him and keep trying to grind it out."
Lee led the Bulldogs in passing connecting on five of his nine throws for 52 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
Chad Bumphis paced the MSU receiving corps with three catches for 52 yards and a score.
Ole Miss wasted little time getting on the board marching the opening drive 60-yards and converting a fake punt for enough yardage to set up a 26-yard field goal by Joshua Shene.
The Bulldogs answered right back with a 13-play, 69-yard drive of their own to set up a 28-yard field goal by Derek DePasquale on the first play of the second quarter to tie the score 3-3.
But the Bulldogs were unable to capitalize on the turnover by returning the favor. Lee's pass intended for Bumphis was tipped by Jonathan Cornell and intercepted by Patrick Trahan and returned to the MSU 38-yard line.
Ole Miss was able to make the Bulldogs pay for the turnover converting it into a 28-yard field goal by Shene to retake the lead 6-3 with 11:08 to go in the second quarter.
Mississippi State took their first lead of the game after an 81-yard drive picking up most of the yardage on the ground with Relf at quarterback. The Bulldogs reached the end zone in the Egg Bowl for the first time in two years when Dixon dove for the pylon from 2-yards out. DePasquale came in to provide the point after for a 10-6 lead with 3:22 before the half.
But the lead would not stand long as Ole Miss responded right back driving down the field moving the chains three times before Jevan Snead found Shay Hodge in the end zone for a bobbling touchdown from 20-yards out. Shene booted the extra point putting the Rebels ahead 13-10 which would stand until halftime.
State received the ball first in the second half and picked up a pair of first downs to set up a career-long 48-yard field goal by DePasquale to nod the score 13-13.
"That's the fartherest kick I have ever kicked in a game period, high school or Division II," DePasquale said. "I just got back there with the wind in my face probably blowing five miles per hour and said 'you've got to make this'. I just gripped it and ripped it and it had about three or four yards to spare."
After holding the Rebels to three-and-out, the Mississippi State offense went back to work with Relf behind center. The Bulldogs churned out a 13-play, 70 yard drive picking up four first downs along the way. Relf tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Green, who leaped over an also wide open Arnil Stallworth for the score. DePasquale put the point after through giving MSU a 20-13 advantage with 4:07 remaining in the third quarter.
The Rebels turned the ball over for the second time in the game on their next possession. Snead was picked off by Charles Mitchell and returned to the 34-yard line.
State was stuffed on three straight running plays from there but decided to go for it on fourth down. Relf dropped back and found a wide open Bumphis, who spun out of several tackles and into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
"We ran a seam route and I turned around and saw Chris Relf scrambling," Bumphis said. "I stopped and I turned around and the ball was coming. I turned around and saw the end zone and my eyes pretty much lit up. There was no way I was going to let anybody tackle me then."
DePasquale's extra point was true putting the Bulldogs up 27-13 with 38-seconds remaining in the third.
Ole Miss opened up the fourth quarter with a bang when Snead dropped back and hit Hodge on a 51-yard scoring strike to Markeith Summers on the first play of the quarter. Shene put the point after through pulling the Rebels within a touchdown.
Mississippi State extended the lead back out to two scores on the next drive following a kickoff return to midfield by Bumphis. The Bulldogs went 46-yards in eight plays capped off by a 10-yard keeper by Relf. DePasquale knocked the PAT through for a 34-20 lead.
Mitchell would once again come up big for the MSU secondary picking off Snead for a second time on the ensuing drive and returning it to the UM 24-yard line.
But the Bulldogs were once again unable to capitalize as Stallworth fumbled on the goal line facing first and goal from the 1-yard line. Cornell forced the fumble which was recovered by LaMark Armour.
Ole Miss brought the ball out with their backs against the wall to the MSU 40-yard line but Snead was picked off for the third time during the game when Corey Broomfield snagged his sixth interception of the season and raced 64-yards down the right sideline for the score. DePasquale added the extra point for a 41-20 lead with 5:17 to go.
The Rebels put one more touchdown on the board with a 52-yard pass from Snead to McCluster. Shene's point after brought the score to 41-27.
State recovered the onside kick and took the ball down to the 4-yard line before taking a knee on the final two plays to conclude the game.
"It never crossed my mind (to get another touchdown)," Mullen said. "It crossed my mind to go get that trophy in my hands as soon as possible. I wanted to make sure we took a knee and get that clock running."
The Rebels had 385 yards on the day with 295 yards through the air but were limited to only 90 yards on the ground.
"It is a sick feeling," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "It is not what we planned, but give Mississippi State credit. They did a good job. Did we do a good job of running the ball or not turning the ball over? I do not think so. You absolutely cannot turn the ball over, especially in a rivalry game like this."
Snead hit on 17-of-29 passing for 275 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions on the day.
McCluster accounted for 145 all-purpose on the afternoon with 82 yards rushing on 16 carries and five catches for 63 yards and a score.
"It was a big part of our game plan was to really try and contain him," Mullen said. "I don't know that we did anything special we just really made an emphasis this week of everybody being sound, being in their gaps and really force him to go side-to-side because everybody else was running to the ball and we were really able to do that."
Hodge was the leading Ole Miss receiver with six grabs for 96 yards and a touchdown.
K.J. Wright paced the Bulldogs defensively with seven tackles lincluding a half-tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble. Mitchell made six stops to go along with his two interceptions and Pernell McPhee and Chris White ended the day with five tackles each.
Trahan and Johnny Brown led Ole Miss with 10 tackles each. Kendrick Lewis made nine stops while Cornell had eight tackles. Trahan also had a sack and an interception while Emmanuel Stephens also got to the quarterback once.
The loss dropped the Rebels to 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference and 8-4 overall.
Mullen feels that while his team did not reach a bowl game, they did end the year on a positive note and send the seniors out on top.
"We told our seniors it is your last opportunity to play at Mississippi State and what is your legacy gong to be?," Mullen said. "The seniors persevered while playing one of the best schedules in the country. They never stopped fighting or battling. They came out today and I can't be more proud of a group of people that get to walk off this field and finish their careers as champions. I couldn't be more proud of guys from Jamar Chaney to Anthony Dixon. It is an amazing feeling for us and the program. The seniors have left us a foundation for the future."