Bulldogs find unlikely heroes in Independence Bowl win

By Staff
VICTORY n MSU defender Edward Yeates (55) celebrates their overtime victory over Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, Sunday. AP photo
By Richard Dark/The Meridian Star
Jan. 2, 2001
SHREVEPORT, La. The Silver Anniversary of the Sanford Independence Bowl seemed to have as many firsts and big plays, as it did snowflakes back in 2000. And yes, college football's ever-popular unsung heroes were also on hand.
The latter category provided no shortage for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who gave head coach Jackie Sherrill a dramatic, come-from-behind 43-41 overtime victory over his old team, the Texas A&M Aggies.
Of course, one of those heroes, was Indy Bowl Defensive MVP Willie Blade.
The big man simply had a big night.
Not only was he all over the field with a total of 16 tackles, including four stops for a loss. His late block of an A&M extra-point attempt gave MSU the impetus to take the lead. After the ball bounced though the snow and cleanly up in Eugene Liger's arms, it looked as if the Dawgs had themselves a pretty amazing play with which to build on for their overtime shot. But when Liger, who was being dragged down flipped it back to a streaking Julius Griffith for the defensive two-point conversion, the Dawgs had to have known it was their time Saturday.
The pivotal sequences down the stretch also served as redemption for Blade.
Another player that was rewarded for his perseverance was backup cornerback Marco Minor, who replaced All-American cornerback Fred Smoot was was ineligible for the contest for academic reason.
Although he did get burned just before the half when he fell down in a mini-drift on the 42-yard touchdown pass from Mark Farris to Robert Ferguson which gave A&M the 20-14 lead at the break, Minor showed Smoot's absence wasn't going to hurt the Bulldogs.
His key late-game interception of Farris and runback to the A&M 4-yard line set up the 3-yard loft from Wayne Madkin to Donald Lee that tied the game with 1:30 to go.
In the white wonderland, no less.
While Minor and the other MSU players may have at times made the victory sound easy, the fact of the matter is, this comeback win down by 14 twice ranks right up there with other nailbiters in recent memory.
Many close to the program, would probably shoot it to the top simply because of its unique circumstances: bowl game, holiday TV spotlight, blizzard.
But in vintage Sherrill style, he refused to gloat about beating his old team, even when asked by a reporter from a Texas newspaper how it felt to gain the win over his ex-coordinator R.C. Slocum.
Richard Dark is a sports writer for the Meridian Star. E-mail him at rdark@themeridianstar.com.

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