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St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State wins on blocked FG

By Corey Long, The Sports Xchange 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Miami (Ohio) Redhawks were one kick away from turning an 0-6 start to the 2016 season into a 7-6 finish with a bowl victory over an SEC program.
However, Mississippi State defensive tackle Nelson Adams had other ideas.
Adams blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt by Nick Dowd with five seconds remaining to earn a 17-16 win for Mississippi State against Miami in the 2016 St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field on Monday.
"We had noticed from the film that their kicker kicked line drives," Adams said. "All that was going through my head was to get a hand up."
Mississippi State (6-7) got 142 rushing yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in the win.
Miami (6-7) quarterback Gus Ragland was 21 of 29 for 257 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The final drive, which started at the Miami 22, was paced by rushes of 10 and 16 yards by Kenny Young that set up a 23-yard pass from Ragland to wide receiver James Gardner to the Mississippi State 17 with 20 seconds remaining.
"We felt pretty confident (on the last drive)," Ragland said. "We were moving the ball on them all game. We knew we had to get within field goal range. Everyone knew what they had to do."
However, the Redhawks opted to play it safe and go for the field goal rather than take a couple of shots at the end zone. Miami coach Chuck Martin said he thought about calling another downfield pass.
"Yeah, I thought about it a lot, probably more than I should have," Martin said. "We had time. We had two timeouts. But we were sitting on a 35-yard field goal to beat Mississippi State and I'm a pretty stupid head coach if somehow we get sacked or turn it over.
"I thought about it long and hard, I felt like we could move it but when we got down inside the 20, I thought it's not a chip shot but distance isn't an issue. If we just get a good kick off we were going to beat an SEC team ... and that's pretty cool."
The Bulldogs rallied from a 16-7 second-half deficit behind the legs of Fitzgerald, who rushed for a 44-yard touchdown to make the score 16-14 with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Mississippi State took a 17-16 lead on its first drive of the fourth quarter as Fitzgerald led the Bulldogs to the Miami 19-yard line, where Westin Graves kicked a 36-yard field goal.
"It took us a bit to get the momentum going, obviously we could have played better at times," Fitzgerald said. "But we finally got in a rhythm and started executing like we were supposed to."
Ragland went 4-for-4 for 35 yards on the drive that led the Redhawks to their first touchdown of the game and a 9-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Ragland also had a 20-yard rush on the drive, which ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Gardner, who leaped over the coverage of Bulldogs defensive back Jamal Peters to grab the ball.
The Bulldogs answered before the end of the first half as Fitzgerald started to establish himself as a dual threat. His 17-yard rush gave the Bulldogs a first down at the Miami 47 and his 24-yard strike to Aeris Williams got Mississippi State in the red zone. Fitzgerald finished the drive with a 2-yard keeper on second-and-goal to make the score 9-7 at halftime.
Ragland threw his second touchdown pass -- a 1-yarder to tight end Ryan Smith -- to give the Redhawks a 16-7 lead with 8:11 left in the third quarter.
Miami took the opening drive of the game 64 yards down to the 1-yard-line but had to a settle for an 18-yard field goal from Dowd.
"It's been an interesting year," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "We have lost some games on the final play. We battled for four quarters today and made the final play. We missed some opportunities along the way but we made the plays when we needed to and got the win."
GAME NOTES: Fitzgerald and Ragland were named the game MVPs.... Gardner's first-half touchdown catch was his first since Sept. 24 against Cincinnati. ... Fitzgerald rushed for 100 yards for the eighth time this season and finished the season with 1,385 yards -- the third-highest single-season total for an SEC quarterback behind Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. ... Ragland threw his first interception of the season to Bulldogs defensive back Jamoral Graham with 14:49 remaining in the game. ... Fitzgerald's two rushing touchdowns gave him 16 for the season, with multiple rushing touchdowns in seven of the final eight games. ... Redhawks DB Deondre Daniels was ejected with 14:07 remaining in the game after officials determined he hit Fitzgerald with the crown of his helmet.

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