STARKVILLE, Miss. — Faced with a fourth-and-1 situation in a tight game midway through the fourth quarter, nobody would have second-guessed Mississippi State's Dan Mullen if he had decided to punt.
Instead, the second-year coach made the surprising call to go for it. And his team rewarded him in a big way.
Chris Relf rushed for 97 yards and threw for 135 yards and a touchdown as Mississippi State beat Georgia 24-12 on Saturday night, breaking a nine-game losing streak in the series dating back to 1974.
Vick Ballard, who rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns, was the running back who easily picked up the first down on Mullen's fourth-and-1 call. At the time, Mississippi State was leading just 10-6.
"We were pretty close," Mullen said. "And if I'm preaching let's go out and win the game, I couldn't shy away. There really wasn't much discussion. Our kids wanted to go for it."
Three plays later, Relf hit Arceto Clark with a 33-yard touchdown pass to give Mississippi State a 17-6 lead and put the game out of reach with 4:22 remaining.
"That's a player's dream when a coach has confidence in us like that," said Mississippi State receiver Chad Bumphis.
Relf completed 8 of 13 passes, producing several big plays with his arm and his feet to deliver one of the biggest wins of Mullen's two-year tenure in front of an announced crowd of 56,721, the third-largest in Davis-Wade Stadium history.
The end of the game was heated, with coaches and players from both teams appearing to exchange angry words. But Mullen said he was too busy celebrating with the Mississippi State student section to be concerned with anything unrelated to the victory.
"It's a big win for our kids," Mullen said. "I couldn't be prouder of them. The atmosphere was great."
Mississippi State (2-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) held Georgia (1-3, 0-3) to just two field goals until the final minutes.
Georgia's Aaron Murray completed 18 of 31 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown.
The troubles continue for Georgia, which has lost three games in a row for the first time since 1990 and starts 0-3 in the SEC for the first time since 1993.
The first two losses in the streak came against nationally-ranked teams — South Carolina and Arkansas. But Saturday's loss comes against a Mississippi State program Georgia has traditionally dominated, winning 16 of 21 all-time entering the game.
Georgia outgained Mississippi State 387 yards to 314, but lost two first-half fumbles, including one by Washaun Ealey that was less than a yard from a touchdown.
Mistakes were the only constant for Georgia, which was penalized nine times for 63 yards, with several coming at crucial moments.
Mississippi State grabbed a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter after a four-play touchdown drive ended with Ballard's 13-yard run.
Blair Walsh kicked two second-quarter field goals from 25 and 35 yards, respectively, to pull Georgia within 7-6 by halftime, but that's the closest the Bulldogs would get.
Georgia's only touchdown came with 1:27 remaining when Murray hit Taverres King with a 40-yard touchdown. Ealey led the team with 37 yards rushing.
"It's very frustrating," said Georgia receiver Kris Durham. "We shoot ourselves in the foot when we have great opportunities. Mississippi State capitalized on their opportunities and you have to give credit where credit is due."
Coach Mark Richt, who is facing arguably the most scrutiny of his 10-year tenure at Georgia, said his team must stick together despite the adversity.
"We're a very close-knit family," Richt said. "We have to look at what's keeping us from having the success we want, and that's what we're going to do."