Mississippi St. beats Illinois in first game since Leach's death
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Massimo Biscardi made a 27-yard tiebreaking field goal with four seconds left, Marcus Banks returned a fumble 60 yards for a touchdown on the game’s last play and No. 24 Mississippi State rallied to beat Illinois 19-10 in the ReliaQuest Bowl on Monday in the Bulldogs’ first game since coach Mike Leach’s death.
Banks’ score came on Illinois’ fifth lateral following a completed pass after the Fighting Ilini got the ball at their own 29. There was a scrum on the field as the game ended, but order was restored after a couple of minutes.
Will Rogers was 29 of 44 yards for 261 yards and one touchdown for Mississippi State (9-4, No. 22 CFP).
Tommy DeVito completed 23 of 34 passes for 253 yards for Illinois (8-5).
Reggie Love III rushed for 53 yards on 12 carries for Illinois. Fighting Illini running back Chase Brown, the nation’s second-leading rusher in the regular season with 1,643 yards, sat out to prepare for the NFL draft.
Mississippi State was held without a touchdown until the first play of the fourth quarter, when Rogers connected on an eight-yard throw to Justin Robinson that tied the game at 10.
The Bulldogs averaged 32.7 points during the regular season.
Illinois, which entered allowing 12.3 points and held six opponents to under 10 points, played without defensive backs Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown. Both opted out ahead of the NFL draft.
DeVito put Illinois up 7-0 on a two-yard run with 2:49 left in the second quarter.
Mississippi State responded with a 38-yard field goal by Biscardi with nine seconds to go in the first half.
IIlinois went up 10-3 on a 52-yard field goal by Caleb Griffin midway through the third.
Mississippi State was limited to 50 yards on its first three possessions, while the next two ended on interceptions by Matthew Bailey and Kendall Smith.
Illinois tops the nation with 24 interceptions.
Among the tributes to Leach, who died on Dec. 12 due to complications from a heart condition, was “MIKE” with a pirate logo as part of the “I” painted between the 20 and 30 on one segment of the field.
The Mississippi State band spelled out “LEACH” before a moment of silence was held before the game.
The Bulldogs had a pirate flag instead of the school logo on their helmets. Illinois’ helmet had a logo similar to what was painted on the field.
Leach’s nickname was “The Pirate.”
Mississippi State: Opens the 2023 regular-season on Sept. 2 against Southeastern Louisiana.
Illinois: Hosts Toledo on Sept. 2.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2