Mississippi State rallies to win ReliaQuest Bowl, honors Mike Leach

ReliaQuest Bowl
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TAMPA, Fla. — 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 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.

Illinois RB Chase Brown to skip bowl game, enter NFL draft

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois running back Chase Brown has decided to skip the ReliaQuest Bowl and enter the NFL draft.

Brown had 1,643 yards rushing this season, tops among the Power Five conferences. He announced his future plans on Twitter on Friday.

Illinois (8-4) is scheduled to play No. 24 Mississippi State (8-4) on Jan. 2 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, in a matchup of Big Ten and Southeastern conference teams.

“Through the highs and lows, my time at Illinois has been the best experience of my life,” said Brown, a junior who started his college career at Western Michigan in 2018. “I earned a degree, advanced as an athlete, and formed lifelong connections.”

Brown will finish his career as the second leading rusher at Illinois with 3,558 yards, trailing Robert Holcombe (4,105 yards from 1994-97). His rushing yardage this season is third all-time at the school behind Mikel LeShoure (1,697 in 2010) and Rashard Mendenhall (1,681 yards in 2007). He set a school single-season record this year with 11 100-yard games.

Brown thanked his teammates for pushing him and his coaches for believing in him. He also thanked Illinois fans.

“Your dedication, passion, and love for this team are greatly appreciated. It has been an honor and a memorable experience to play for you all,” he wrote. “I will always bleed orange & blue.”

Illinois rewards Bielema with new contract through 2028

illinois bielema
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois signed coach Bret Bielema to a new six-year contract through 2028 on Tuesday, a big reward for transforming a struggling program into a winner in his second season.

Bielema, 13-11 with Illinois, gets a bump in salary from $4.2 million to $6 million. The deal, which is pending approval by the school’s board of trustees in January, includes various bonuses like a $500,000 annual retention incentive. He is also eligible for four one-year extensions if certain performance thresholds – which were not disclosed in the announcement – are met.

“I am proud of the progress we have made in two years and I could not be more excited about where our program is going,” Bielema said in a statement.

The Illini (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) are wrapping up their best season since the 2007 Rose Bowl team won nine games. They were ranked in the AP Top 25 poll for five straight weeks and made the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time. They’re set to face Mississippi State in the ReliaQuest Bowl on Jan. 2 in Tampa, Florida, after finishing with losing records the previous 10 years.

The 52-year-old Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three Rose Bowls before a disappointing run at Arkansas, is 110-69 in 14 seasons as a college coach. He is from western Illinois.

“He has assembled an exceptional staff, developed the existing players on our roster, and recruited talented student-athletes to join our program,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said. “He has worked tirelessly, with an eye for detail and tremendous competitive urgency, to set a new standard of excellence for Fighting Illini Football. Perhaps most importantly, he has brought an immediate identity to our football program and represented the University of Illinois with class, humility, and confidence.”