Nashville, Tenn. - Only two plays stood in between Wake Forest (6-7, 5-3 ACC) and a Music City miracle, as the Demon Deacons failed to overcome Vick Ballard's two long touchdown runs in the 23-17 loss to Mississippi State (7-6, 2-6 SEC) in the Franklin American Mortgage Music Bowl.
Wake was given one last opportunity with 2:15 left in regulaiton, but three straight incompletions thrown by Tanner Price ended all hopes for a dramatic fourth quarter comeback win.
"We knew Mississippi State would be throwing a lot of different defenses at us, different defensive coverages and blitzes," Price said. "I was a little bit off tonight and missed some throws, and it's disappointing."
The Demon Deacons stood tall defensively outside Ballard's scoring scampers (60 and 72 yards), forcing four Bulldog turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles).
"It's the difference in the game, really," Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said. "I thought overall we played [a] pretty good defensive football game except for big plays. We didn't gap out well defensively, they took advantage of it."
Ballard's touchdowns may have been the difference makers, but the turning point came early in the second quarter when Fletcher Cox blocked a 33-yard field goal attempt by Jimmy Newman.
The Bulldogs broke the 7-7 tie two plays later when Chris Relf connected with Arceto Clark for a 31-yard scoring strike to take a 13-7 lead.
"It was huge," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. "It allowed us to capitalize on the momentum and go and get the quick score afterwards and swing the momentum our way, and take a big lead in at halftime [16-7]."
Tommy Bohanon kept the game from getting out of hand when he plowed into the end-zone for a yard touchdown at the 11:00 mark, trimming the Deacs deficit to 16-14.
Newman later put Wake Forest within a possession from tying and possibly winning the game when he nailed a 46-yard field goal with 3:27 remaining in the contest that left MSU holding on to its final 23-17 advantage.
Impact stats and performances:
--- Wake Forest did not have a single turnover, but forced four.
--- Mississippi State sacked Price six times.
--- The Demon Deacons converted on three of their five fourth-down attempts, but went 2-17 on third-down situations.
--- Ballard rushed 14 times for 180 yards (career-high) and two touchdowns to earn MVP honors for the game.
--- Michael Campanaro led all receivers with career highs in catches (10) and yards (128).