Miss. State Loses Orange Bowl to Ga. Tech | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Miss. State Loses Orange Bowl to Ga. Tech

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Mississippi State had lots of yards and too many missed chances in the Orange Bowl.

The Bulldogs totaled 605 yards, including 453 passing by Dak Prescott, but lost Wednesday night to Georgia Tech 49-34.

After trailing 21-20 to start the second half, the Bulldogs twice lost the ball on downs, and two onside kick attempts failed.

"We missed some big opportunities," coach Dan Mullen said. "We just didn't score enough points."

Quarterback Justin Thomas was chosen the game's outstanding player after he directed a Tech offense that totaled an Orange Bowl-record 452 yards rushing. He ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns, and threw for 125 yards and a score.

Synjyn Days ran for 171 yards and three scores, including a 69-yarder that defused the Bulldogs' comeback bid.

No. 8 Mississippi State (10-3) lost three of its final four games after being ranked No. 1 for five consecutive weeks.

"We did a lot of things that this school has never done," Prescott said. "The senior class led us to new standards, and that's a success in itself of setting a standard for this university and this football team and I think we did that this year."

Prescott, a junior, declined to say whether he'll return for his senior season or turn pro.

He finished 33 for 51, and his yardage total was an Orange Bowl record and a career high. Mississippi State outgained Georgia Tech by 28 yards, and the two-team total was another Orange Bowl record.

"It's very disappointing to end the season on a loss," Mullen said. "But we have a lot to build on, and we have to find a way to make the 2015 edition even better."

No. 10 Georgia Tech (11-3) earned its first Orange Bowl victory in 63 years. The Yellow Jackets improved to 2-8 in bowl games in the past 10 seasons.

"Our program took a step forward this year," Thomas said, "and we're planning to keep striving to put Georgia Tech's name on the top of the list."

The victory was especially sweet for an Atlantic Coast Conference team located in the heart of Southeastern Conference country.

"For a week or so we won't have to hear about the SEC," Tech coach Paul Johnson said.

The SEC fell to 4-3 in bowl games, and the West is 2-3.

Mississippi State scored on a 42-yard Hail Mary on the final play of the first half, but the Yellow Jackets were unfazed, bouncing back with touchdowns on their first four possessions of the second half to lead 42-20.

"We talked about it at halftime — if we scored every time in the second half, we couldn't lose, because we were ahead," Johnson said.

Georgia Tech's triple option attack had uncharacteristic balance in the first half, when Thomas threw 10 times for 125 yards. Senior Darren Waller had a career-high 114 yards on five catches, including a 41-yard score.

The nation's second-ranked rushing offense revved it up in the third quarter, when the Yellow Jackets pulled away by gaining 208 yards, all on the ground.

"That's our game, no matter who we play," Thomas said. "That's what we're going to do."

The 75,000-seat stadium was a third empty at the start and two-thirds empty with 10 minutes left. But fans made plenty of noise, especially Tech rooters.

After Georgia Tech scored a touchdown to take a 21-20 lead with 29 seconds left in the first half, the Bulldogs started at their own 28. Four plays advanced the ball to the Yellow Jackets 42 with 5 seconds left, and after a timeout, Prescott heaved a pass into the end zone. Two defenders and Mississippi State's Joe Morrow got their hands on the ball, and it deflected to Fred Ross, who made a diving scoop for the improbable score.

"I was just in the right spot," Ross said.

The game marked Mullen's return to the stadium where he won a national championship as a Florida assistant in 2008.

"The last time was kind of one of the most surreal, weirdest experience you'd ever have in your life," Mullen said. "I ran on the field, took a picture with the crystal ball trophy, and ran to get home to go to sleep and have a team meeting to try to build a program that could come back here. I think everybody doubted that. Everybody everywhere doubted that we could build a program that could actually come back here, and then here we are."

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