- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen arrived at the postgame press conference with a wide smile on his face and a cigar in his right hand.

It was unlit. He said that wasn’t the case in the locker room.

“It’s pretty smoky,” Mullen said.

The Bulldogs had good reason to celebrate on Saturday night following a dominant 55-20 road victory over rival Mississippi in the Egg Bowl.

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald ran for a school-record 258 yards and two touchdowns and also threw for three touchdowns to bring The Golden Egg trophy back to Starkville after two years in the Rebels’ possession.

The Bulldogs (5-7, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) have won five of eight Egg Bowls under Mullen. This rivalry victory - in front of a 66,038 fans on the Rebels’ home turf - was particularly impressive.

“Every time you win it, it’s awesome,” Mullen said. “Every time you lose, it’s awful. Because it sticks with you. What an unbelievable feeling.”

The Bulldogs finished with 457 yards rushing and averaged nearly 10 yards per rushing play. Aeris Williams added 191 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but it was Fitzgerald who had the biggest gains, including runs of 70 and 61 yards.

“It’s a phenomenal feeling,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s always great when you’re running and no one’s around you. To do it in a big time game like this in front of this crowd - it’s unreal.”

Ole Miss (5-7, 2-6) was led by freshman quarterback Shea Patterson, who threw for 320 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Akeem Judd led the Rebels with 107 yards rushing.

Mississippi State jumped out to a 27-10 lead by midway through the second quarter largely thanks to big running plays for Fitzgerald and Williams. Ole Miss has struggled with its linebacker play all season and the Bulldogs were eager to exploit that weakness in the middle in the field, hitting the Rebels again and again for big gains.

Ole Miss rallied late in the second quarter with 10 straight points to pull within 27-20 by halftime, but the Rebels were outscored 28-0 in the second half. By the fourth quarter, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was strangely quiet except for a small contingent of Mississippi State fans who cheered every moment.

“It stinks and I hate it for the fans, the university, the seniors and everybody involved with this program,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “It’s a very disappointing night.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs earn a satisfying ending to the regular season after several frustrating moments this fall. What’s even better for Mississippi State: Several of the team’s star players like Fitzgerald (sophomore), Williams (sophomore) and linebacker Leo Lewis (freshman) should have plenty of football left in Starkville.

Ole Miss: It’s been a disastrous season for the Rebels, who started as the No. 11-ranked team in the country. A porous defense, combined with season-ending injuries to key players like quarterback Chad Kelly and cornerback Kendarius Webster was too much for Ole Miss to overcome.

BREAKING RECORDS

Fitzgerald ran for a 70-yard gain in the first quarter to break the school record for yards rushing by a quarterback. The previous record was 986 by Dak Prescott during the 2014 season. Fitzgerald entered the game with 985.

WOMMACK’S LAST STAND

Ole Miss announced about an hour before the game that defensive coordinator Dave Wommack would retire following this season. It was a tough final game for the veteran coach - the Rebels gave up 566 total yards.

Freeze didn’t rule out big changes outside of Wommack’s departure.

“We will look at everyone and everybody,” Freeze said. “That starts with me. When you can’t stop their base stuff, it’s the process or the people. We will evaluate both and we’ve got to recruit better. I’ll be looking for a coordinator that can bring toughness and physicality to our program and players.”

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 .

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