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Spartans let game slip away

September 13, 2003
Spartans sophomore wide reciever Agim Shabaj, center, runs the ball while Lousiana Tech linemen Chris Van Hoy, left, and Lacorey Street try to catch him Saturday at Spartan Stadium. MSU lost, 20-19, to Lousiana Tech. John Gwillim/The State News —

The MSU football team held a lead late into the fourth quarter, but for the second straight season the third time lost its charm.

The Spartans were stunned by Louisiana Tech 20-19 after a series of MSU errors gave the Bulldogs an opportunity to win.

Senior quarterback Jeff Smoker injured his right big toe in the second quarter and never returned, leaving backup quarterback Damon Dowdell as the Spartans only hope.

"I'm in disbelief," Smoker said. "You don't foresee anything like that happening."

Leading 19-7 in the final two minutes of the game, Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke McCown found Julius Curry in the end zone for a 4-yard reception.

On the ensuing onside kickoff attempt, MSU third-string quarterback Drew Stanton charged the football, which bounced off his knee and chest, before it was recovered by the Bulldogs.

Louisiana Tech proceeded to drive 55 yards on six plays, sprung by a facemask call on senior defensive end Greg Taplin, before McCown became the hero with a 11-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Curry to put the Bulldogs ahead with only two seconds remaining.

On second-and-10 during the final drive, junior defensive end Clifford Dukes sacked McCown for a eight yard loss, but Taplin was called for a 10-yard facemask penalty that set up the Bulldogs final touchdown from the 11-yard line.

A failed Hail Mary attempt from Dowdell to sophomore receiver Agim Shabaj sealed the first loss in the John L. Smith era at MSU.

"We gave the football game away," Smith said. "We all had a hand in giving it away."

McCown tested the Spartans secondary all game, throwing 61 times for 436 yards and three touchdowns.

Bulldog receiver Shawn Piper beat MSU junior cornerback Roderick Maples deep for touchdowns two times, but one of the plays was called back because of holding.

Piper did score a 76-yard touchdown yard touchdown and finished the game with 171 yards on 10 receptions.

The Spartan defense forced five turnovers, two fumbles and three interceptions, while MSU didn't give up any turnovers despite the loss.

The defense also sacked McCown three times and had several hurries that led to turnovers.

"We had some pressure all along," Smith said. "But guys can't stay on the field all day long. We didn't put anything together offensively in the second half."

Smoker finished the game with 138 yards passing on 12-of-19 passing, while Dowdell was 7-for-11 for 54 yards.

Filling in for Tyrell Dortch, who sat out the game with a sprained ankle, sophomore Jaren Hayes had 145 yards and one touchdown rushing. He also caught five passes for 58 yards.

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