ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Nick Fitzgerald rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns and Mississippi State held off Miami (Ohio) 17-16 with help from a blocked field goal in the closing seconds of the St. Petersburg Bowl on Monday.
Nelson Adams got a hand on Nick Dowd’s potential game-winning 37-yard field goal that would have helped Miami finish a stunning turnaround from a 0-6 start to the season to a winning record.
Instead, both the Bulldogs (6-7) and RedHawks (6-7) finished with losing marks.
Fitzgerald, who led the Southeastern Conference in total offense, scored on runs of 2 and 44 yards on the way to his eighth 100-yard rushing performance of the season. The redshirt sophomore also completed 13 of 26 passes for 126 yards.
Gus Ragland threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns for Miami. He also threw his first interception of the season early in the fourth quarter, and Mississippi State turned the mistake into a 36-yard field goal that put the Bulldogs ahead with 12:03 remaining.
The RedHawks drove the ball deep into Bulldogs territory on their next two possessions, turning the ball over on downs at the Mississippi State 32 midway through the fourth quarter and reaching the 17 before Dowd had his kick blocked with 5 seconds left.
James Gardner and Ryan Smith caught TD passes for Miami, which also had an extra-point blocked in the opening half.
While there’s a tendency to minimize the importance of games played before New Year’s weekend, Mississippi State and Miami both felt fortunate to be in St. Petersburg for Christmas. The Bulldogs had a losing record for the first time since 2009 – coach Dan Mullen’s first season in Starkville – but qualified for a postseason berth because of the program’s NCAA Academic Progress Rate.
Miami’s rebound from a poor start was one of the feel-good stories of the year. Finishing in a bowl game against an SEC opponent attracted additional national attention for the RedHawks and also figures to help in recruiting.
Miami: The turnaround following a 0-6 start carried the RedHawks to a share of the MAC East Division title and provides a solid foundation to build on next season with 13 starters returning, including Ragland. Gardner had an outstanding sophomore season as well, finishing with 45 receptions for 750 yards and six TDs.
Mississippi State: Despite finishing with a losing record for only the second time in eight seasons under Mullen, the Bulldogs think they have a promising future with Fitzgerald at quarterback. In addition to throwing for 2,413 yards and 21 touchdowns, the sophomore rushed for 1,385 yards and 16 TDs after beginning his career as a backup behind Dak Prescott.