By Mike Bonts
TAMPA (Florida Sports Wire) – Massimo Biscardi kicked the 27-yard winning field goal with four seconds to play as No. 22 Mississippi State rallied for a 19-10 ReliaQuest Bowl victory over Illinois Monday before 35,797 at Raymond James Stadium.
Mississippi State (10-4) lost their head coach Mike Leach to a heart condition last month. Players, coaches and fans kept his legacy alive throughout the game.
Running back Simeon Price broke a season-long 28-yard run to the 2-yard line with 12 seconds to play to set up the winning score. He finished with a career-high 68 rushing yards on seven carries (9.7 average).
Marcus Banks sealed the win with a 60-yard fumble return as time was running out.
The Bulldogs tied the game on the first play of the final period. Facing a fourth and goal, quarterback Will Rogers threw a an eight-yard pass to Justin Robinson who stayed in bounds in the back of the end zone for the score. Rogers threw for 261 yards with a touchdown while completing 29 passes.
Robinson was named the MVP of the ReliaQuest Bowl. He caught a career-high seven passes for a career-best 81 yards. Scored on an 8-yard reception on fourth down and hauled in a career-long 25-yard reception.
Earlier in the half, Caleb Griffin connected on a 52-yard field goal to increase the Illini (8-6) lead to 10-3. MSU trailed 7-3 at the intermission.
The Bulldogs dented the scoreboard with 13 seconds to play in the first half. Biscardi kicked a 38-yard field goal.
Rogers was intercepted twice in the second quarter. Kendall Smith’s fifth pick of the season sparked a 74-yard scoring drive.
Illinois QB Tommy DeVito ran two yards for his sixth touchdown of the season. DeVito went 23 of 34 passing with 193 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Isaiah Williams recorded an Illini career-high 114 receiving yards on nine catches, while Casey Washington put together a career-best performance with nine catches for 74 yards, with both marks the most in his college career.
The Bulldogs drove to the Illinois seven to open the second quarter and looked poised to score when Rogers was picked off by Matthew Bailey at the one -yard line. It was Bailey’s third interception of the season.
Rogers was 16 of 26 in the first half for 139 yards.
Mississippi State took the opening kickoff in what was to be a scoreless first quarter. Illinois drove to the MSU 24 for their best early field position. Randy Charlton sacked DeVito for a ten-yard loss. Griffin’s 52-yard field goal try went wide right.
DeVito was 12 of 16 for 138 yards in the opening half.
State recorded 7.0 sacks as a team, by seven different players, which stands as its highest total of the season and an MSU bowl game record.
In honor of their late coach the Bulldogs lined up in an Air Raid formation on their first play and let the play clock wind down to zero. Illinois declined the delay of game penalty. MSU wore maroon helmets with a white pirate flag to honor Leach, who famously had an interest in the history of the pirate lifestyle.
This was Illinois’ first bowl game in the state of Florida since the 1999 MicronPC.com Bowl.
(SportsDay photo by Nancy DeLander Beecher/Florida Sports Wire)