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Mississippi. St. 35, Jacksonville St. 3

Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom has been saying he needs some young players to step up and help the team win. He got just that on Saturday from sophomores Derek Pegues and Brandon Thornton in a 35-3 routing of Jacksonville State.

Pegues intercepted the ball on the first play of the game and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. He returned a punt 81 yards in the second quarter for a touchdown — the longest punt return for a Bulldog since Kevin Prentiss’ 83-yarder in the 1998 Southeastern Conference Championship game against Tennessee.

Thornton had a huge second half for the Bulldogs (2-5, 0-3), rushing for 88 yards and two touchdowns after getting the ball only once in the opening two quarters.(3-3, 3-1).

“It was good just to get a win,” Croom said. “It was good to get some of these younger guys into the ballgame and to see what they could do. We came out with some energy in the first five minutes of the second half, and that is something we haven’t done.”

Thornton, who has missed most of the season with an ankle injury, returned last week with a 19-yard effort against West Virginia.

“Coach Croom has been saying he wanted a playmaker to come into the game and step up,” Thornton said. “So I went to him and told him that I felt like if I got the ball in my hands I can help the team.”

Pegues interception return for a score gave the Bulldogs’ its first touchdown in the first quarter all season.

“I got beat on that play in practice,” Pegues said. “Coach told me just to keep my eyes in the right spot and I did.”

The Bulldog defense dominated the Gamecocks, allowing only 201 yards and 13 first downs. Hardin managed to complete only 12 passes for 149 yards.

Mike Henig went 11-for-25 for 183 yards in his first start since suffering a broken collarbone in the Bulldogs’ season opener against South Carolina. He completed his first touchdown pass of the year on a 16-yard pass Eric Butler in the third quarter.

Sophomore Aubrey Bell had three receptions for the Bulldogs and a game-high 62 yards. Tony Burks had two receptions for 52 yards.