/Blocked kicks save the Bulldogs’ day

Blocked kicks save the Bulldogs’ day

The season at Mississippi State ended with the Miami Redhawks setting up for a potential game-winning field goal during the St. Petersburg Bowl. Nelson Adams broke through the line and got the ball for the Bulldogs. State won 17-16. It just goes to show that you don’t die by the sword; you live by it. Or something similar. This season, Mississippi State football saw a lot of life and death. So did Bulldog fans. Six games were decided by seven or fewer points. Two of six games were decided by 7 or fewer points. The final record of 6-7 could easily have been worse. It could have been worse, however, as we saw the day after Christmas. The Bulldogs were outgained 433-335 in the Mid-American Conference Redhawks’ match. They survived thanks to two blocked kicks, the last field goal, and an additional point. They also survived thanks to Nick Fitzgerald, the sophomore quarterback. State has much to be proud of in the future. Fitzgerald was the game’s MVP, and as he should have been, he ran for 142 yards and two State touchdowns. He also threw for 136 more. Even those numbers aren’t enough to show how good he performed. While he completed 13 of 26 throws, more than half of his incompletions were actually good throws that were not dropped. His numbers could have been extraordinary, in other words. Fitzgerald displayed the same leadership Dan Mullen had been teaching him throughout the season when his first passes kept bouncing off receivers’ hands. Fitzgerald later said to his teammates that he had told them: “Just keep playing, stay focused, and we’ll all be OK.” And they were. The hardest. Gus Ragland, Miami’s great quarterback, deserves a mention. He was just amazing, throwing 22 of 30 passes for 263 yards. This was often in tight coverage. He also ran 17 times, gaining 51 yards. State had eight games against Southeastern Conference opponents this season. However, they didn’t play any quarterbacks that were more efficient than Ragland. Ragland deserved a better fate. Ragland moved Ragland’s Redhawks to position for Nick Dowd’s 37-yard field goal attempt from in the middle of the field. State was able to penetrate the middle of the line, as it had with the blocked extra point. Adams was able to get a kick that appeared to be low, and State celebrated with equal parts joy as well as relief. State’s 55-20 Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss would have been a major setback. Mullen is confident that Fitzgerald will continue his strides in the off-season as the momentum continues to build. Mullen was just as measured after the Egg Bowl in his praises for Fitzgerald. Mullen spoke of Fitzgerald after the game in a TV interview. “He’s got some work to do this offseason.” “He’s really improved… This is where you make the big jump. He must grow as both a passer and as a leader. He has that potential. We will make sure that he does everything we ask. Mullen is right when he states that Fitzgerald is not a finished product. On the flip side, he has the potential to be just as good as everyone else. Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Check out his columns as well as his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.