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Next Stop for Mississippi State: SEC Title Game

November 27, 1998| From Associated Press

OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi State made up for last year's late-season collapse, beating Mississippi, 28-6, Thursday night to earn a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship.

Despite playing in pain, James Johnson ran for two short touchdowns in the first half as the No. 25 Bulldogs, 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the SEC, won their third consecutive game to clinch the SEC West title.

"To put it together for three straight games like we did, and beat our biggest rival to win the SEC championship is incredible," said defensive end Cornell Menafee, who had seven tackles.

Especially after 1997, when Mississippi State lost its last two games--to Arkansas and Mississippi--to miss out on the SEC title game and the postseason.

After beating Arkansas, 22-21, the Bulldogs clinched the title in the Egg Bowl, won by the visiting team for the fifth consecutive year. Mississippi State, which won its only SEC title in 1941, will play top-ranked Tennessee in the league's championship on Dec. 5.

Johnson, already limited and grimacing because of a groin injury, had scoring runs of two and one yards before halftime. He didn't return after his second touchdown, when he injured a shoulder on the play that gave the Bulldogs a 14-3 lead.

"He gave everything he had," Bulldog Coach Jackie Sherrill said of Johnson, adding that the tailback should be able to play in the SEC title game.

On the opening drive, Ole Miss (6-5, 3-5) went 64 yards on 12 plays to set up Carlisle McGee's 40-yard field goal. While becoming only the second Ole Miss running back to rush for 1,000 yards, sophomore Deuce McAllister was about the only effective offense for the Rebels, who had just 265 total yards. McAllister had 39 yards rushing on the opening drive, and 177 overall--finishing with 1,082 for the season.

With starting quarterback Romaro Miller sidelined by a broken collarbone, freshman walk-on David Morris was forced into his first start. Morris completed only eight of 24 passes for 75 yards with three interceptions, the last returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Tim Nelson with 2:36 left.

Ole Miss, which had just five seniors who played, completed its second consecutive winning season after a two-year NCAA probation that Coach Tommy Tuberville inherited.

Tuberville, 25-20 in four seasons at Ole Miss, might have coached his last game in Oxford.

He is expected to be in Auburn today to discuss replacing Terry Bowden, who resigned Oct. 23. Auburn is expected to name its new coach by the weekend.

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