“Death Valley, the place where opponents dreams come to die.”
Les Miles spoke these words two years ago, and they have all but been accepted as factual by the college football world… especially at night.
42 teams have ventured into Death Valley at night to face the Tigers under Miles … 40 couldn’t escape fast enough, most with their tails between their legs.
The 2 victors? Both ranked #1 nationally, included guys named Nick Saban and Tim Tebow.
… until Saturday night.
All the familiar ingredients were there: the sweltering sun giving way to an eery darkness, 102,000 sweaty bodies funneling into the gates from their respective boudin-filled tailgates, Mike the Tiger growling certain doom at opponents, and Les Miles swag-limp leading his Tigers onto the field. The anticipation of a sure Tiger victory seasoned the air.
Only last Saturday night there was another ingredient in the stew that was Tiger Stadium… An uncommon one. And it came in the form of three letters, increasingly sacred to all draped in maroon…
A one, Dakota Prescott, was not compliant with the prewritten prescription of opponent’s shame Saturday nights in Death Valley. Defeat, nor a moral victory would suffice. For a young man growing up in Louisiana, this night was a long time coming, and he would not be denied. “This is exactly what I wanted to do when I committed to Mississippi State,” Prescott said.
He chose to attend Mississippi State over nearby LSU, and on Saturday night, his world came full circle. His mother, his rock, Peggy Prescott, lost too soon last year to cancer, undoubtedly flooded his mind. His dad and brothers eagerly looked on, knowing this was more than just a game… it was an opportunity. He led the Bulldogs into Tiger Stadium… Death Valley… at night— an environment that owns no soft-spot for feel-good stories and boasts of throttling opponents at the first hint of weakness.
…and he delivered.
With Mississippi State up 31-10 in the 3rd quarter, Dak and the Dawgs (nice ring to it huh?) had flipped the script, and the Tiger faithful, their taste buds only accustomed to feasting on opponent’s misfortune, were scurrying for the exits.
Save a scoring frenzy from LSU to tighten the contest in the closing minutes, the boys in maroon dominated the contest… coincidentally the three touching the football the most (Dak, center Dillon Day, and running back Josh Robinson) all hailing from the state of Louisiana, all playing for much more than pride. Robinson, who arguably had the best performance of anyone, said he has been dreaming about this moment since he was 10. (how’s that for a plot twist on Les Miles’ quote?)
When the LSU’s Hail Mary attempt was intercepted to seal the victory, Dak celebrated with his teammates, then ran over to embrace his father and brothers. A few seconds they were locked; seconds that signified so much more. The adversity overcome. The memory of his mother…so fresh and so real. To Dak, there’s no doubt she was there watching, willing him to each broken tackle and touchdown.
This was his redemption ‘moment,’ and he had risen above, the way most people only dream of before crumbling under pressure. Only he won’t call it that… he was just playing the game he loves, with and for his teammates, and mostly his mom.
Who knows what the season holds for Mississippi State, whether the flurry of newfound national attention will be warranted… but one can be certain that for #15 in maroon, no adversity will be more than he’s already overcome, and no moment too large. And that Peggy Prescott is proud.
There’s something special about Death Valley at night… the scene, the passion, the anticipation. But last Saturday something was different… Someone was different.
And he goes by Dak.