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South Carolina and Mississippi State both needed strong second halves to defeat Kentucky and Auburn, respectively, Saturday. Despite trailing at halftime, South Carolina defeated a big Kentucky team in Lexington by the score of 42-10. In similar fashion, Mississippi State defeated Auburn 38-12 on the road.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Mississippi State was 3-0 thanks to a win over Ole Miss and two forfeit victories. Coming into the game the Bulldogs had not played a competitive match in several weeks, and it showed early.
“There were a lot of mistakes on our part. A lot of knock-ons, taking the ball to the ground and losing it, and not keeping possession,” said Mississippi State head coach Evan Kaplan.
Mississippi State led 7-0 before Auburn scored two tries to take a 12-7 lead. “Auburn moved the ball well and had a strong pack. We were luck to only be down 12-7 at the half,” Kaplan added.
The second half was a completely different game as the Bulldogs added five converted tries while blanking Auburn. “We got back to how we have been playing in the past," he said. "We started controlling the ball getting it to our backs and out to our wings.”
A core of 11 players that have been playing together for several seasons leads Mississippi State. Derek Mitchell, David Dickerson, and Keodis Leslie lead a physical pack of forwards. The backs are littered with natural speed and athleticism, led by flyhalf Alex Schultz. “Last year they were just starting to jell and they’re a handful this year,” associate head coach Randy Pannell said.
Mississippi State looks to improve upon the 38-12 victory and compete with the likes of Alabama and South Carolina in the coming weeks and into the playoffs.
Like Mississippi State, South Carolina struggled out of the gate. Despite scoring a quick try, the Gamecocks squandered several scoring chances and penalty opportunities on the goal line due to knock-ons and turnovers. To add insult to injury, South Carolina lost its captain to a yellow card.
Kentucky started to get some go-forward and used its big pack to score two tries and take a 10-7 lead into halftime. “They have a big team this year and drove the ball well down the field on us,” South Carolina coach Mark Morris told Rugby Today.
South Carolina rallied in the second half putting up five unanswered scores. “The defense was what really set it up,” Morris added. “Everybody stepped up and hit the big guys lower and put people on the ground. This allowed us to get them on the back foot and play the ball a little bit wider.”
With the win South Carolina moves to 6-0 in conference play.