Did anyone else wake up today with a big smile on their face? I swear, I slept like a baby last night and woke up in just the greatest mood... knowing that the Golden Egg is back in Starkville can do wonders for a Bulldogs fans morning mood. After being carted off the field in the first quarter with a gruesome leg injury in Starkville last year and having to watch Ole Miss carry that trophy off the field could not have been an easy thing to watch for Nick Fitzgerald. Last night, Nick Fitzgerald reminded the state of Mississippi what he is capable of when he is on the field playing for the Golden Egg. Fitzgerald ran all over Ole Miss, seemingly running at will right down their throat all night... he looked like a man determined to right a wrong, and just like he did in 2016, Nick Fitzgerald walked off the field with the Golden Egg after another dominating performance in Oxford. Mississippi State dominated on both sides of the ball and came away with a decisive 35-3 victory in the 115th edition of the Egg Bowl.
Ever since last years Egg Bowl, the Bulldog faithful has had to deal with all the trash talk from the other side, and of course that’s just natural. The winning side always talks trash and the losing side always has to take it. While I normally write about how the game went for Nick Fitzgerald, I have to get something off my chest before I begin that assessment. All year, during the off-season and regular season, we have heard nothing but how “great” this Ole Miss offense is, and they actually have been pretty great this season... heck, they ranked 5th in the nation by averaging 539.7 yards per game. Not bad at all, but as good as their offense has been... our defense has been just as great in the national discussion. Yet a lot of my Ole Miss buddies were very adamant about how they would throw on us all night and make this a competitive game. I honestly thought they would hang with us there for a while too, but our defense had other plans. This defense of ours, one of the best I’ve ever seen at Miss. State, held Ole Miss to just 189 total yards and 3 points on their own field... folks... do I even need to explain how dominant that is? That’s 351 yards below their average... do I need to continue? Yeah I think you all get the picture now. Our defense deserves a ton of praise for their performance all year, and for them to end the regular season on that note is something I will never forget. As good as our offense was last night, our defense was outstanding.
A lot like last week, Nick Fitzgerald did not have to throw the ball much, but once again he made it count when he did throw. He didn’t rack up the touchdown passes like he did last week but he did make some good timely throws that helped keep the Ole Miss defense on their heels a bit. Fitzgerald finished the night 11 for 18 passing with 111 yards and 1 TD. It was Fitzgerald’s rushing attack that did the most damage in this game. Fitzgerald carried the ball 18 times for 117 yards and 2 Touchdowns in this Egg Bowl, not near as much as he did in the record breaking performance he had in Oxford 2 years ago, but when he has two dynamic running backs like Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill with him in the backfield, there is no need to make him carry the full load. Kylin Hill had 17 carries for 108 yards and 1 Touchdown, which was the first touchdown of the game, and Aeris Williams had 11 carries for 64 yards and 1 Touchdown in his final Egg Bowl. As a team Miss. State finished with 309 total yards on the ground against Ole Miss, who only managed to gain 37 yards on the ground the entire game.
With time winding down in the first half, Nick Fitzgerald was able to find Deddrick Thomas for a 9 yard TD pass with only 25 seconds left in the half. This lone Touchdown pass from Fitzgerald honestly felt like a dagger even though there was still an entire half left to play. You could just feel the air being taken out of their stadium with all the momentum headed towards the Bulldogs locker room. The 2nd half began with the Bulldogs offense going 3 and out with a punt, but it only took 2 plays for all the momentum to shift heavily in the Bulldogs favor. Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta’amu was sacked on the first play by Gerri Green for a loss of 7 yards, and then threw an interception the very next play to Bulldogs DB Jonathan Abram to give the Bulldogs great field position at the Ole Miss 19 yard line. 3 plays later, Nick Fitzgerald would find the end zone with a 9 yard rushing TD to give the Bulldogs a commanding 28-3 lead in the 3rd quarter. While the game had been pretty much decided, there was still a bit of action to come with some drama added on as the 3rd quarter came to an end. As we all know, the Egg Bowl rarely comes without some form of drama. On what was thought to be an Ole Miss TD to AJ Brown, until officials reviewed the play and determined that Ole Miss did not get the snap off before the 3rd quarter ended, Brown and Bulldogs DB Jonathan Abram got tangled up with one another trying to wrestle the ball away. When they both got up, words followed and then both teams rushed to the front corner of the end zone. A shouting and shaving match ensued, followed by several player throwing punches. The Egg Bowl had turned into an Egg Brawl. I’m sure Ole Miss fans were just happy to see their players still had some fight left in them. Sorry guys, I couldn’t help myself there. Anyways, AJ Brown and Jonathan Abram exchanged punches, but between the two, only Abram was ejected. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral got tangled up with Bulldogs DB Jamal Peters, both pulling away at the others face mask, until Peters ripped off Corral’s helmet entirely. Both sidelines completely emptied toward that side of the field, and after a concerted effort from both coaching staffs and officials, order was restored and both teams returned to their respective sidelines. When the referee finally got on the mic he said something I will never forget, and something I’m still laughing about today, even as I sit here and type. He said, “Unsportsmanlike conduct on all players from both teams”. I swear, it was almost worth it just to hear that because I have never heard that in my life. What made it funnier? The refs reviewed the play and the touchdown was taken off the board. Just wasn’t Ole Miss’ night. However, Willie Gay, who had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after recovering a fumble and spinning the ball on the ground in the first quarter, was ejected for receiving his 2nd of the game. Ole Miss also had a player or two ejected after it was all said and done. The Bulldogs would then force the Rebels to punt and take possession of the ball, leading to the last score of the game on an Aeris Williams 1 yard TD run after 11 play 89 yard drive to make the score 35-3.
This season has had plenty of ups and downs for Nick Fitzgerald, but I am so proud of how he handled himself throughout this whole process. It takes a special kind of person to deal with the roller coaster of emotions he has faced while leading a team with great expectations. Yeah we lost a couple of games we shouldn’t have, but that’s football. Sometimes things just don’t go your way no matter the effort put forth. Effort was never a problem with this team, it was simply execution in a system that needed more time than we thought to get acclimated to. As disappointing as those couple of losses were, I for one could not be more proud of this team. Through it all they never backed down and never gave in, they fought forward and turned things around. The offense found its way, the defense got better and better, and the coaching staff led them through it all. Nick Fitzgerald was on the verge of being benched with many people on the outside of that locker room calling for it. He responded in a big way that week and has played very well since. He played last night with tremendous focus and intensity, undoubtedly using last years Egg Bowl as fuel for this one. He stared down the team that ended his season last year and met them head on... he ran like a man possessed. There wasn’t anything Ole Miss could’ve done to stop him this time. We can talk all day about his gifts as a runner or his shortcomings as a passer, but there is one trait of his that is indisputable... and that is heart. Nick Fitzgerald has plenty of heart, and without it I don’t care how talented someone is, if you don’t have heart you are missing the most important ingredient of a football player. Heart is what got him through that injury, through the coaching change, through the defeats and the noise that followed and heart is what brought the Golden Egg back to Starkville. It has been an honor to watch this young man and these seniors lead our Bulldogs, and I look forward to seeing them lead us in their final bowl game as a Bulldogs.