The Belk Bowl has been held annually in Charlotte, NC since 2002 (known as the Continental Tire Bowl). Over 46,000 cowbell swinging fans came out in the rain to see the Mississippi State Bulldogs in their first ever Belk Bowl appearance against the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who were seeking their third victory after wins in 2005 and 2011. Luckily for the fans, it didn’t take long for some big plays on a night when several Belk Bowl records were set. The Bulldogs never trailed in the game, defeating the Wolfpack 51-28.
On the 1st play from scrimmage the Bulldogs defensive end Johnathan Calvin applied pressure to Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett leading to an interception by Gerri Green. Just 5 plays later Dak Prescott connected with Fred Ross for a 14-yard touchdown pass to take a 7–0 lead. A few series later Brissett threw another interception, this time, a one-handed catch by Mississippi State’s Brandon Bryant. After starting the next drive on the Bulldog 33-yard line Prescott connected with De’Runnya Wilson on 2 consecutive passing plays for 67 yards and a touchdown. The first quarter ended with the Bulldogs leading 14–0. The Bulldogs scored their first rushing touchdown of the evening on a 33 yard reverse by Fred Ross with 12:17 remaining in the second quarter increasing the lead to 21-0.
On the next drive, the Wolfpack offense finally got going when Brissett connected with Pharoah McKever for an 82 yard catch and run (this score was the 2nd longest passing touchdown in Belk Bowl history). On the next drive the Wolfpack defense came up with its first turnover when Niles Clark intercepted a Prescott pass. Building off that momentum sophomore running back Jaylen Samuels showed off his athleticism hurdling a defender on a 48-yard touchdown run to bring the Wolfpack within 7 points at 21-14.
Things got back rolling for the Bulldogs’ offense who put together a 7 play drive to increase their lead 28-14. This touchdown was credited to senior offensive lineman Justin Malone who recovered a Prescott fumble in the end-zone. The Bulldogs would put 3 more points on the board thanks to a 39 yard field goal by Westin Graves, to give the them a 31–14 lead at the half.
Midway through the third quarter the Wolfpack scored the first points of the half on a Brissett 3 yard touchdown run to stay within 10 points at 31-21. From this point on the Bulldogs’ offense would dominate. Prescott connected with Brandon Holloway on a 10-yard pass in the corner of the end-zone to increase the lead to 37-21. Prescott and Holloway would connect again, this time for a 55-yard strike down the sideline for a touchdown. Freshmen running back Aries Williams tacked on a 33 yard touchdown run up the middle.
In a post-game interview Prescott stated: “I returned back to Mississippi State this season to win a bowl game for my school and our fans.”
With his performance tonight he was able to do that and more, winning the Jerry Richardson Most Valuable Player Award, setting the Belk Bowl Passing Yards record with 380 yards, Belk Bowl Passing Touchdowns record with 4, and solidified himself as the 4th player in FBS history with at least 9,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards in a career.
-Tony Stanford Jr.
Photo: Hakim Wright