Rogers leads Mississippi State to 26-22 win over No. 15 A&M

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Desperate for a boost after consecutive close losses, Mississippi State found a huge one by knocking off the 15th-ranked Texas A&M on Saturday night.

Will Rogers threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns and Nathan Pickering sacked Zach Calzada in the end zone late for a safety in Mississippi State’s 26-22 victory.

“It’s always good to win at Kyle field and I’ve done it more than most people have,” said coach Mike Leach, who improved to 4-2 in College Station.

Rogers hopes the win can propel the team to more success this season.

“I think we’re doing special things,” he said. “I think the program’s going in the right direction and tonight was a huge step toward that.”

Rogers was sacked twice, and the Bulldogs had two false start penalties that backed them up before Nolan Mccord’s 49-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right with about eight minutes to go.

The Aggies cut the lead to two on a 44-yard field goal by Seth Small about two minutes later.

Texas A&M (3-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) forced a punt to get a chance to take the lead. But Calzada, a backup in his third start, was taken down by Pickering on third down for the safety to extend the lead to 26-22 with about two minutes to go, and the Bulldogs ran out the clock to secure the victory.

“We played together,” Leach said. “Hung in there. Didn’t struggle with the emotional ups and downs.”

Makai Polk had 13 receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns to help Mississippi State (3-2, 1-1) snap its two-game skid.

Polk was asked about the key to the game.

“Just being confident in ourselves, being confident in one another and making routine plays,” he said.

It’s the second straight loss for the Aggies after they won their previous 11 games and is a huge blow to a team that entered the season with national championship hopes.

Texas A&M gave up a season-high in points as coach Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies struggled to contain Leach’s Air Raid offense. Things only get tougher for the Aggies next week with a visit from top-ranked Alabama coming next Saturday night.

“We’ve got to play better,” Fisher said. “In those games where every possession matters, every play matters, we’ve got to execute better.”

Calzada threw for 135 yards with a touchdown and an interception and Isaiah Spiller ran for 100 yards for Texas A&M.

“I thought Zach grew up and made some really good plays at times,” Fisher said. “A couple things he’s got to get cleaned up. But he’s growing.”

Polk’s second touchdown came on a 20-yard reception that extended the lead to 24-13 with about seven minutes left in the third quarter. Jaylon Jones was covering him but tripped and fell just before the ball arrived to leave Polk open for the score.

Calzada scrambled 25 yards for a touchdown with just more than a minute left in the third quarter, but his 2-point conversion attempt was broken up to leave the Aggies down 24-19.

Things went wrong for the Aggies early in this one. Fred Peters grabbed an interception after Calzada’s first pass was deflected. But the Bulldogs couldn’t move the ball and settled for a 24-yard field goal.

The Aggies took a 7-3 lead when Calzada threw an 11-yard TD pass to Jalen Wydermyer with about 9 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter.

Rogers found Jaden Walley for a 1-yard score later in the first to put Mississippi State on top 10-7.

The Aggies added one field goal early in the second quarter and a second one put them on top 13-7 with about three minutes left in the first half.

Polk made a nice grab in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a 17-13 halftime lead.

THE TAKEAWAY

The Aggies could be in for a long night next Saturday against powerful Alabama after struggling against lesser opponents in these two losses.

“You play every week to be a good football player, a good team and to win the game,” Fisher said. “We have to line up each week and play a good game and see where the year takes us.”

PARDON THE INTERRUPTION

Jackie Sherrill, who coached at both Texas A&M and Mississippi State, walked in near the end of Leach’s postgame news conference to congratulate him on the win.

“Coming in here and winning is a big deal,” Sherrill said.

Leach replied: “I’m glad you weren’t coaching.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Aggies will plummet in the poll and might even drop out altogether after consecutive losses.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State: Hosts Alabama on Oct. 16.

Texas A&M: Hosts Alabama on Saturday night.

No. 1 Georgia romps into playoff with 50-30 SEC win vs LSU

Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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ATLANTA – Georgia swatted away the field goal attempt, the ball spinning to a stop at its 4-yard line. The LSU players trudged off the field, thinking the play was over.

Christopher Smith knew better. He suddenly scooped it up and took off the other way, sprinting 96 yards for a touchdown that epitomized the Bulldogs program.

They were a step ahead of LSU on Saturday.

They’ve been a step ahead of everyone for two years now.

With all sorts of turmoil behind them in the rankings, Georgia headed to the College Football Playoff as the clear No. 1, dismantling the No. 11 Tigers 50-30 in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday.

Stetson Bennett‘s threw a season-high four touchdown passes in another stellar postseason performance, while Smith’s heads-up play gave the Bulldogs an early spark.

“I’ve got good players around me. I’m not that bad at football, either,” Bennett said with a smile. “We’ve got a good team.”

Georgia (13-0, No. 1 CFP) also caught a big break when Smith deflected a pass that bounced off an LSU receiver’s helmet and wound up being picked off by the Bulldogs, setting up a score that contributed to a 35-10 lead by halftime.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels re-injured a sore right ankle late in the second quarter, giving way to Garrett Nussmeier in the second half.

The backup guiding the Tigers (9-4, No. 14 CFP) to three second-half touchdowns, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Georgia accomplished something that not even last season’s national championship squad could could do – win its first SEC title since 2017. The Bulldogs were denied in this game a year ago by Alabama, before bouncing back to beat the Crimson Tide in the title game.

“I don’t want one kid to walk out of our program without an SEC championship ring in their careers,” coach Kirby Smart said. “That could’ve happened. They said enough is enough and got ’em one tonight.”

Georgia heads into the playoff assured of a return trip to Atlanta for a de facto semifinal home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just 75 miles from its Athens campus.

LSU’s outside hopes of crashing the four-team playoff field were wiped out a week ago by a stunning loss at Texas A&M, one of several upsets that will give the selection committee plenty to think about before its announcement Sunday.

Tennessee and Clemson also ruined their playoff hopes with losses late in the regular season, while No. 4 Southern California is presumably out after getting blown out by Utah in the Pac-12 title game Friday night.

Just as the SEC game was kicking off, No. 3 TCU lost to Kansas State in overtime for the Big 12 championship, further clouding a playoff picture that suddenly looks much more favorable for No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Alabama.

No matter who makes the elite field, Georgia is firmly focused on becoming the first repeat national title since Alabama in 2011-12, having won all but one game this season by double-digit margins.

“I’ve tried not to play attention to any of it,” Smart said of all the chaos. “It didn’t matter to me. That’s so far away.”

The Bulldogs showed they are more than just a bunch of talented athletes – this is a smart, well-coached group.

When Nazir Stackhouse burst through the middle of the line to block LSU’s 32-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter, Smith knew what to do.

“That’s a scenario we go over a lot in practice,” he said.

He looked toward the sideline to see if it was OK to grab it.

“You’re not allowed to pick it up unless you can score with it,” Smart said.

Smith took care of the rest.

LSU coach Brian Kelly blamed himself and his staff for allowing the play to happen.

“Obviously, we did a poor job if coaching,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to have our guys alert in that situation. They were not alert.”

LSU quickly tied it up on Daniels’ 53-yard touchdown pass to Kayshon Boutte, only to have Bennett take control from there.

The sixth-year senior, a former walk-on who was offensive MVP of both Georgia playoffs wins a year ago, struck for four TD passes in a less than 15-minute span: 3 yards to Brock Bowers, 22 yards to Ladd McConkey, 14 yards to Darnell Washington and 3 yards to Dillon Bell.

Just like that, Georgia led 35-7.

“I was in a zone,” Bennett said.

It’s been that way for two years now.

THE TAKEAWAY

LSU: Kelly’s debut season turned a bit ugly the last two weeks, but the Tigers are on the right track. “We want to get back here next year. That’s our goal,” Kelly said. “Get back here and win it.”

Georgia: Win or lose in the SEC title game, the Bulldogs were assured of a spot in the playoff. But Smart continues to impress with his ability to keep the team motivated. While there were some huge defensive lapses in the second half, this game was never in doubt.

GOING FOR 2

When Georgia scored its final touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 48-23 lead, Smart surprisingly called for a 2-point conversion.

The Bulldogs converted it with a trick play, but Smart insisted that he wasn’t trying to run up the score.

“The books says you go for 2 there,” he said.

When asked about the play, Kelly stumbled over his words a bit before finally saying, “I don’t get too caught up in what other teams are doing.”

INJURY REPORT

While Daniels went down for LSU, Georgia also lost a couple of players to injuries in the first half.

McConkey landed awkwardly making a catch along the sideline, inflaming a knee issue that’s been bothering him all year. Tight offensive tackle Warren McClendon sustained what appears to be a mild MCL sprain.

Neither returned after halftime.

UP NEXT

LSU: The Tigers get their postseason assignment Sunday, with the Citrus Bowl among the possibilities.

Georgia: The only question is who the Bulldogs will meet in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve, with TCU, Ohio State and SEC rival Alabama all in the mix.

Watson, Troy win Sun Belt title over Coastal Carolina, 45-26

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
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TROY, Ala. – Gunnar Watson and the streaking Troy Trojans came out with a flurry of big plays and a defense that was barely budging.

Watson passed for 318 yards and three long touchdowns to lead the Trojans to a 45-26 victory – their 10th straight – over Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference championship game on Saturday.

“It seemed like everything was going right for us,” Watson said.

The early domination didn’t last, but it was enough.

The Trojans (11-2) raced ahead 31-0 and with a 316-22 advantage in total yards en route to their Sun Belt-record seventh league title. Coach Jon Sumrall‘s first season began 1-2, with one loss on a Hail Mary pass, and ended with fans celebrating Troy’s first Sun Belt title since 2017 by storming the field and bringing down a goal post.

A group of students carried part of the goal post out of the stadium to the parking lot. It ended up in a nearby fountain.

“That probably will be one of the coolest memories I’ll ever have here,” Troy linebacker KJ Robertson said. “That was awesome for me. I don’t know how they’re paying for that.”

By the time three-time Sun Belt player of the year Grayson McCall got the offense going for Coastal Carolina (9-3), it was all but over. McCall started at quarterback after missing the past two games with a foot injury.

“They came out and really took it to us from the opening drive and we could not respond at all there in the first half,” said Chanticleers coach Jamey Chadwell. “I was proud of our team trying to come back in the second half. I thought we showed a lot of effort and fight.”

Watson completed 12 of 17 passes, including touchdowns of 67 yards and 36 yards to Rajae’ Johnson and a 65-yarder to Deshon Stoudemire. Watson was hit as he was throwing the 67-yarder with Johnson stretching out to grab it.

Johnson then snagged the ball one-handed to answer the Chanticleers’ second touchdown.

“I saw the replay and I was like, `Holy crap,”‘ Watson said.

DK Billingsley ran for three touchdowns, including a 33-yarder, for the Trojans.

Troy, which was coming off three straight five-win seasons, hasn’t lost since that Appalachian State Hail Mary on Sept. 17. Sumrall & Co. left the field in a much better mood this time.

“That was as good of a feeling as I’ve ever had after a game,” he said. “These kids have worked so hard and they’ve done so much and they’ve been through a lot.”

McCall overcame a rough start to complete 29 of 41 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns with a late interception. He also ran for an 8-yard touchdown.

McCall led touchdown drives heading into and coming out of halftime. He said his status was a gametime decision.

“I felt good in warmups so I told coach I was good to go,” McCall said.

The momentum didn’t last.

T.J. Jackson then had a strip sack and fumble recovery inside Coastal Carolina’s 10 to set up a touchdown.

The stats evened out but the score never got too uncomfortable for Troy. Coastal Carolina actually ended with a 432-411 edge in total yards.

Coastal Carolina has lost two straight lopsided games, including a 47-7 defeat to James Madison amid speculation about Chadwell’s future. He said he has spoken to Liberty about replacing coach Hugh Freeze but “I have not signed anything with them or anything of that nature.”

TAKEAWAY

Coastal Carolina: McCall and the offense took too long to get going for the Chanticleers to have a chance, but the defense struggled to bring down both Troy’s running backs and receivers in the first half. Still, the Chanticleers have won 31 games over the last three seasons.

Troy: Might have earned its second Top 25 ranking and first since 2016. The Trojans have their longest win streak since winning 11 in a row in 1995. Their six Sun Belt titles had been tied with Arkansas State.

SLOW DRIVE

The fumble recovery set up a drive that didn’t go far but took nearly four minutes. Troy finally scored after the eight-play, 7-yard drive was kept alive by a personal foul on a field goal.

UP NEXT

Both teams await their bowl destinations.