Dec. 26, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Mississippi State blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt with five seconds left in the game to secure a come-from-behind 17-16 victory over Miami (Ohio) in the ninth annual St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field on Monday.

The Bulldogs’ Nelson Adams was credited with the block, the second of two critical blocks of attempts by Miami placekicker Nick Dowd in the game. MSU’s Johnathan Calvin blocked an extra-point attempt midway through the second quarter, a play which ultimately proved to be the game’s deciding point.

Miami (6-7) controlled the game for the first three quarters as Mississippi State (6-7) did not take its first lead until the 12:03 mark of the fourth period on a 36-yard field goal by Westin Graves that proved to be the final scoring of the afternoon.

The Redhawks, who entered the bowl game on a six-game winning streak after dropping their first six contests of the season, kept their season-ending momentum in place by jumping to a 9-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

Miami took the opening drive all the way to the MSU 1-yard line but had to settle for an 18-yard field goal by Dowd. The Redhawks again pushed the ball deep into Bulldogs’ territory early in the second quarter but fumbled at the MSU 11-yard line to stymie another potential scoring drive.

Redhawks’ quarterback Gus Ragland connected with James Gardner on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 8:11 left in the half but that play was followed by the blocked conversion by Calvin, a play which loomed critical as the game wound to its exciting finish.

MSU quarterback and game/team MVP Nick Fitzgerald got his team on the scoreboard with a 2-yard run with just 22 seconds left in the half to close the gap to 9-7 at halftime.

Miami regained its nine-point advantage with an 8-play, 85-yard drive on its opening possession of the second half. Ragland capped off the drive with a 1-yard scoring toss to tight end Ryan Smith.

Mississippi State answered with a long scoring drive of its own. Fitzgerald broke loose for a 44-yard touchdown run around right end with 4:15 left in the third to put the finishing touches on a 9-play, 82-yard drive that cut the margin to 16-14.

The Bulldogs stopped Miami’s next possession with a fourth-down interception deep in MSU territory. Fitzgerald then directed his club on a 7-play, 51-yard drive that was punctuated by the eventual game-winning 36-yard field goal by Graves.

Despite the lack of scoring, the final 12 minutes held plenty of drama.

Miami again penetrated MSU territory but saw its 9-play drive stopped on a fourth-down incompletion at the Bulldogs’ 32 with 7:01 left.

MSU threatened to add to its lead but also was stopped on a fourth-down incompletion at the Miami 22 with 3:29 left.

The Redhawks started from there and needed just six plays to get the ball in the red zone, reaching the MSU 17-yard line following a 23-yard pass from Ragland to Gardner. Miami worked the clock down and got the ball in the center of the field to set up the potential game-winning field goal try.

MSU’s Adams then made the play of the game with the block that preserved the win for the Bulldogs.

Fitzgerald and Ragland each were named their team’s respective Most Valuable Players of the game.

Fitzgerald rushed for a game-high 142 yards and two touchdowns. The 142 yards on the ground were the most ever by a quarterback in the St. Petersburg Bowl and the second most overall, trailing only the 198 accumulated by East Carolina’s Vintavious Cooper in 2013. Fitzgerald also completed 13 of 26 passes for 126 yards and was not sacked a single time.

Ragland connected on 21 of 29 passing attempts for 257 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 51 yards on 17 attempts.

The 1-point game was the closest in St. Petersburg Bowl history. The last three games and four overall have now been decided by seven points or less.


First Quarter

Miami: Nick Dowd 18-yard field goal – 10:07

Second Quarter

Miami: James Gardner 6-yard pass from Gus Ragland (Nick Dowd kick blocked) – 8:36

Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald 2-yard rush (Westin Graves kick) – 0:22

Third Quarter

Miami: Ryan Smith 1-yard pass from Gus Ragland (Nick Dowd kick) – 8:11

Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald 44-yard rush (Westin Graves kick) – 4:15

Fourth Quarter

Mississippi State: Westin Graves 36-yard field goal – 12:03


  • Game MVPs:
  • Mississippi State: QB Nick Fitzgerald – 13-26 passing for 126 yards, 0 TDs, 0
  • INTs. 18 rushes for 142 yards and 2 TDs.
  • Miami: QB Gus Ragland – 21-29 passing for 257 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT.
  • 17 rushes for 51 yards
  • The two teams combined for 768 total yards, the fourth-highest in the game’s history. The St. Petersburg Bowl game record for total combined yards is 1,003 by East Carolina (568) and Ohio (435) in 2013.
  • The five total penalties in the game was a new record for fewest in the game’s history. The previous low had been seven combined penalties in the 2015 game between Marshall and UConn. The two penalties on Mississippi State were the fewest for one team in the bowl’s history.
  • There were no penalties called in the first half, marking the first time in the history of the game that the opening 30 minutes were played without a single penalty. The first flag of the game was thrown with 10:28 remaining in the third quarter on a defensive holding call on Mississippi State.


  • Miami’s completion percentage of 71 percent (22-31 passing) was the highest in St. Petersburg Bowl history, breaking the previous mark of 69 percent by Marshall in the 2011 game.
  • Miami averaged 6.56 yards per play in the contest, the second-best in game history and just shy of the game record of 6.59 yards per play by UCF in 2012 against Ball State.
  • TE Ryan Smith tallied seven catches for 72 yards, with the seven receptions tied for the sixth-best single-game total in game history.
  • Miami RB Maurice Thomas returned the opening kickoff of the game 40 yards, the fourth-longest kickoff return in St. Petersburg Bowl history. Jeremy Wright of Louisville holds the bowl game record with a 95-yard return for a touchdown in 2010 against Southern Miss.


  • QB Nick Fitzgerald became the first quarterback in St. Petersburg Bowl history to rush for 100 or more yards in the game. His 142 rushing yards was the second-most by any player in the game, trailing only the 198 rushing yards by Vintavious Cooper for East Carolina in 2013.
  • The 44-yard touchdown run by Fitzgerald in the third quarter was the longest rushing play by a quarterback in St. Petersburg Bowl history. The score also marked the third-longest rush and the fourth-longest touchdown play overall in the game’s history.
  • Fitzgerald averaged 7.89 yards per carry, the third-highest average in game history. His 18 carries is tied for the fifth-highest mark in St. Petersburg Bowl records.
  • RB Brandon Holloway totaled 73 kickoff return yards (on 3 returns), good for fifth-best in St. Petersburg Bowl history.


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