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No. 22 Mississippi State defeats Illinois late in ReliaQuest Bowl

Jan 2, 2023; Tampa, FL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Casey Washington (14) runs with the ball as Mississippi State Bulldogs linebacker Jett Johnson (44) and linebacker Sherman Timbs (34) defends during the first half in the 2023 ReliaQuest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Massimo Biscardi booted a 27-yard field goal with four seconds left and No. 24 Mississippi State honored late head coach Mike Leach with a 19-10 win against Illinois on Monday at the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

It was the Bulldogs’ first game since Leach passed away on Dec. 12.

Mississippi State (9-4) added a touchdown on the final play of the game when Illinois (8-5) fumbled a lateral and Marcus Banks returned it 60 yards.

With the game tied 10-10, the Bulldogs took over on their own 21 with 1:50 left and drove deep into Illini territory before Biscardi’s kick gave them their first lead of the game.

Mississippi State’s Will Rogers completed 29 of 44 passes for 261 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He found Justin Robinson seven times for 81 yards and the tying score early in the fourth quarter.

Tommy DeVito completed 23 of 34 passes for 253 yards and rushed for a score in his final game for Illinois, which was outgained 388-288 as it surrendered all seven of the game’s sacks.

The Illini played without first-team all-American cornerback Devon Witherspoon, second-team all-American running back Chase Brown and all-Big Ten safety Sydney Brown as all three declared for the NFL Draft.

Leach, who died due to complications from a heart condition, was honored in several fashions throughout the day.

The Mississippi State band’s pregame performance featured a LEACH formation while playing the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme. The Bulldogs, instead of wearing their customary helmet logo, donned stickers featuring a pirate flag and the initials ML.

ReliaQuest Bowl officials painted MIKE in Mississippi State colors in several spots on the field — using the same logo as the sticker on Illinois’ helmets.

On the game’s first play, the Bulldogs lined up everyone wide left except for the center and took a delay-of-game penalty to honor Leach. Illinois declined the penalty as part of the prearranged gesture.

Illinois’ Caleb Griffin missed a 52-yard field goal to cap the only legitimate scoring chance in the first quarter.

Mississippi State marched inside Illinois’ 10 early in the second quarter, but all-Big Ten lineman Johnny Newton tipped a Rogers pass that Matthew Bailey intercepted at the goal line.

Illinois put the first dent in the scoreboard with 2:49 left in the first half when DeVito took a shotgun snap and swept left for a 2-yard touchdown.

Mississippi State replied with Biscardi’s 38-yard field goal with nine seconds left to make it 7-3 at the half.

Griffin made amends for his earlier miss with a 52-yard blast that gave Illinois a 10-3 lead with 6:57 to go in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs pulled into a 10-10 tie on the first play of the fourth quarter. Going for it on fourth-and-2 from the Illinois 8, Rogers lobbed a pass to Robinson in the back of the end zone that stood up to a replay review to check whether part of Robinson’s right foot landed out of bounds.

–Field Level Media