LITTLE ROCK — Mississippi State finally got the best of Arkansas in an overtime game and in the state of Arkansas.
Damian Williams scored on a 25-yard touchdown run on the first play of overtime, and the Mississippi State defense made it stand, as the Bulldogs defeated Arkansas 24-17 on Saturday before a crowd of 45,198 at War Memorial Stadium.
Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) got an interception by Taveze Calhoun on fourth down to seal the victory and keep its bowl hopes alive. Arkansas gained only one yard on its first three plays, and Calhoun stepped in front of the receiver and snared Brandon Allen’s pass, returning it across midfield before being tackled.
Williams alternated with Tyler Russell at quarterback throughout the game. While Russell is the better passing option, Williams showed what he can do with his legs, following the blocking of his offensive line and running back Josh Robinson into the end zone.
"I love to be in those types of situations," Williams said. "That’s the type of guy I am. I know the offensive line and the rest of the guys were going to help me get through it and they did."
The Bulldogs lost to Arkansas in overtime contests in 1996, 2000 and 2010, all in Starkville, Miss., and had never defeated the Razorbacks in Arkansas. Mississippi State’s best result in the Natural State was a 13-13 tie in 1993. Arkansas still leads the all-time series 15-8-1. The Bulldogs can become bowl eligible with a win over rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night in Starkville.
"Our guys had a lot working against them today, a banged-up, beat-up team," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "A lot of things didn’t go our way. They had years of history going against them, and those guys kept battling and they found a way to win."
Mississippi State had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Devon Bell’s 42-yard field goal drifted wide right with 24 seconds remaining. That came after Arkansas (3-8, 0-7) failed to cash in on its own chance to take the lead late in regulation. With the score tied 17-17, Allen passed to Jeremy Sprinkle for 44 yards to the Mississippi State 12. But Alex Collins fumbled on the next play, and Nickoe Whitley recovered for the Bulldogs at the Arkansas 9.
Arkansas led 10-0 in the first half, but was unable to maintain the lead and lost its eighth consecutive game for the first time in school history. The only game between Arkansas and its first winless SEC season is Friday’s season finale at LSU.
After a first half that ended in a 10-10 tie, the Razorbacks took a 17-10 lead on a 22-yard run by Julian Horton in the third quarter on an end around. The Bulldogs answered immediately, covering 75 yards in 11 plays, as Russell connected with Jameon Lewis for a 5-yard touchdown on third down to knot the score.
The Razorbacks took the opening kick and went 56 yards for a touchdown. After Korliss Marshall’s kick return gave it a short field, Arkansas quickly moved into Mississippi State territory. Javontee Herndon scored, also on an end around, and Arkansas led 7-0. Zach Hocker added a career-best 54-yard field goal in the second quarter to make it 10-0.
"You can see what (Arkansas) is trying to build and how they’re trying to build it," Mullen said. "They have a tough, physical defensive line that makes plays and a big, physical offensive line."
The Bulldogs countered in the final minutes of the second quarter. Bell’s 24-yard field goal got them on the scoreboard with 5:08 left. Russell then found LaDarius Perkins on a play action down the middle of the field for a 30-yard touchdown to pull the Bulldogs even. That touchdown drive began when Arkansas failed to convert on a fake punt. Sam Irwin-Hill was dropped for a 4-yard loss on what was a curious call with the way Arkansas’ defense was playing and having the wind at its back.
"Mississippi State runs ‘punt safe’ quite a bit," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "We thought we had a very, very good look. It was the look that we wanted and we gave it the green light, and obviously missed a critical block. If I had it to do all over again, I obviously wouldn’t do it."
Russell completed 18 of 28 passes for 263 yards and two scores before leaving the game late in regulation with an apparent shoulder injury. Robinson had 17 carries for 101 yards. Arkansas rushed for 225 yards as a team, spread out among nine ball carriers, but managed only 114 yards passing.