ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Miami University football team battled to the end against Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Monday, but the Bulldogs blocked the RedHawks' 37-yard field goal attempt with five seconds remaining to hold on for a 17-16 victory.
Miami (6-7 overall) outgained Mississippi State (6-7 overall) 433-335 yards during the contest, holding the lead until the fourth quarter. Sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland finished 21-for-29 for 257 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. His top target was junior tight end Ryan Smith, who had seven receptions for 72 yards, both career highs.
Sophomore running back Maurice Thomas got the RedHawks into good starting field position when he returned the opening kickoff 40 yards to the Miami 41. Ragland then spread the ball around, finding three different receivers as he went 5-for-6 for 56 yards in driving the `Hawks down the field. Ragland's quarterback sneak on third down was stopped at the one yard line, but sophomore Nick Dowd split the uprights on an 18-yard field goal to give Miami a 3-0 lead with 10:07 left in the first quarter.
The Red and White's defense forced the Bulldogs to punt on their first two possessions as MU maintained the 3-0 advantage through the end of the first quarter. The RedHawks drove down to the Mississippi State 18 on their first drive of the second stanza before a turnover ended their scoring hopes. However, Miami's defense held strong to force another Bulldog punt and maintain its three-point advantage.
On the RedHawks' next drive, Ragland had four rushes for 31 yards and found sophomore wide receiver James Gardner for a pair of receptions. On the second one, Ragland hit Gardner over the shoulder in the left corner of the end zone for a six-yard touchdown reception. The extra point was blocked, but Miami took a 9-0 lead with 8:36 to go in the second quarter.
Mississippi State added a late touchdown with 22 seconds remaining in the half after quarterback Nick Fitzgerald scored on a two-yard run. Despite that the RedHawks took a 9-7 lead into the break, having outgained the Bulldogs 207-141 yards.
After forcing Mississippi State to punt on its opening drive of the third quarter, Miami began its first second half drive on its own 15 yard line. A completion from Ragland to Ryan Smith for 21 yards got the RedHawks driving down the field. The Red and White gained further first downs on an 11-yard rush from redshirt sophomore running back Alonzo Smith and a 12-yard completion to Ryan Smith. After Miami drove it down to the Bulldogs' one-yard line. Ragland found Ryan Smith in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Dowd's extra point made it 16-7 with 8:11 remaining in the third quarter. The Bulldogs cut into the RedHawks lead when Fitzgerald scored on a 44-yard run. The extra point made it 16-14 Miami with 4:15 to go in the period.
After Ragland had thrown 203 consecutive passes without an interception to begin his career, Mississippi State was able to get one on a fourth down play early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs drove down the field, but Miami was able to come up with a stop before they drove into the red zone. However, Westin Graves hit a 36-yard field goal to give MSU its first lead of the contest, 17-16, with 12:03 remaining.
The RedHawks drove to the Bulldogs' 32-yard line on their next drive, but Mississippi State was able to make a stop on a fourth-and-one play. The Bulldogs tried to run out the clock, but a quarterback hurry by senior defensive end Austin Gearing forced an incomplete pass on fourth down and gave Miami one final chance from its own 22-yard line with 3:29 to go.
Sophomore running back Kenny Young took over on the final drive, rushing for 34 yards on three carries to get the `Hawks to midfield. From the Mississippi State 40, Ragland found Gardner for 23 yards to the Bulldog 17 with 17 ticks remaining. Miami took a couple of knees to force MSU to use its timeouts, but the Bulldogs were able to get a hand on Dowd's 37-yard attempt, forcing it well short and finishing off the 17-16 victory.
Gardner had five catches for 92 yards, while Young led the team in rushing with 67 yards on nine carries. Junior defensive back Tony Reid led the RedHawks with 14 tackles, while sophomore linebacker Brad Koenig had 10, including one for loss.
Miami loses only 11 seniors from the first team in FBS history to go from 0-6 to 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game.