Mississippi State wins St. Pete Bowl vs. Miami at Trop

Blocked field goal in final seconds seals Bulldogs' victory

Mississippi State wins St. Pete Bowl vs. Miami at Trop

ST. PETERSBURG -- The sound inside Tropicana Field was familiar, even if the source and time of year were different. Cowbells clanged through the Trop throughout pregame festivities and every time Miami (Ohio) faced a third down. They rattled whenever the Mississippi State Bulldogs drove into the end zone or popped a kick through the uprights.

And with five seconds left in the game, Tropicana Field flashed back to 2008, when the sound of cowbells surged. Nelson Adams reached the highest for MSU, but a whole horde of teammates burst through the center of the line on a 37-yard field-goal attempt by Miami. The defensive lineman batted down Nick Dowd's kick. There would be no walk-off at the Trop. Mississippi State held on for a 17-16 win in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

"We had noticed on film that the kicker kind of kicked line drives, so all that was going through my head was, 'Get your hand up,'" Adams said. "Everyone was pretty confident we were going to block it."

The Bulldogs (6-7) finished sixth in the Southeastern Conference West division and qualified for the St. Pete Bowl despite a sub-.500 record because of their academic success. The RedHawks, who finished second in the Mid-American Conference East division, reached the bowl by rattling off six straight victories to follow an 0-6 start.

It was, by most standards, a down season for the SEC, but the conference got off to a perfect postseason start thanks to MSU. Mississippi State trailed for nearly all of the first three quarters, finally taking the lead on a 36-yard field goal by kicker Westin Graves with 12:03 left in the game. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald almost single-handedly lifted Mississippi State to victory, throwing for 136 yards and running for another 132 and two touchdowns. He accounted for 268 of the Bulldogs' 335 total yards of offense, plus both of their touchdowns.

Miami (6-7) jumped ahead during the first five minutes on a field goal by Dowd and then added a touchdown pass from quarterback Gus Ragland to wide receiver James Gardner midway through the second quarter to build the lead. With a chance to stretch their advantage to 10 points, though, the RedHawks had their extra point blocked.

The play gave Mississippi State confidence later in the game, enough for head coach Dan Mullen to tell his team he expected them to block the decisive field goal during the waning seconds.

"Honestly, I thought we were going to block the kick," Mullen said. "We were due. At that moment, you have confidence in the guys. We'd practiced it, we got one earlier, we're due. Let's just go make the play and win this game."

Mullen began his postgame news conference by praising the venue and the accommodations provided by the bowl. The two different types of turf make it a little odd to run on, but not game-changing. The lighting is a little different in the two end zones, but it didn't make it any harder to catch kicks and punts. And brown footballs don't get lost in the white roof like baseballs sometimes do.

"I thought the facility was fantastic," Mullen said. "... That was kind of cool to play in that stadium. Everything about it felt different. It felt kind of fun, like a bowl game."

The two sides were never separated by more than nine points, and even that gap lasted less than a quarter. Fitzgerald, a sophomore who could be one of the top returning quarterbacks in the SEC, had a showcase opportunity. Ragland, also a sophomore, had a chance to prove himself against a recent national stalwart, and he delivered with 263 passing yards, a pair of touchdowns and a 73.3 percent completion rate.

The St. Pete Bowl delivered a bowl-season thriller.

"We should've made that last kick," Miami head coach Chuck Martin said. "It was a pretty good opportunity for Miami football to play Mississippi State and go up against some guys that don't look like the guys we normally go against. I think our guys definitely took advantage of that and made the most of it."

David Wilson is a contributor to MLB.com based in Florida. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.