Wild Finish Sinks Illini In ReliaQuest Bowl

By IlliniGuys Staff

January 2, 2023

(Cover photo courtesy Steve Snider/IlliniGuys)

TAMPA, Fla. -- #22 Mississippi State scored nine points in the final four seconds to deliver a wild finish in the Bulldogs' 19-10 win over Illinois in the ReliaQuest Bowl Monday afternoon.

Illinois (8-5) never trailed in the game until Massimo Biscardi's 27-yard field goal with four seconds left gave the Bulldogs a 13-10 lead.  The Illini attempted a series of laterals after a pass play from Tommy DeVito to Isaiah Williams, but Marcus Banks picked up a lateral off the bounce and sprinted 60 yards the other way for a touchdown on the game's final play.

It was a disappointing finish for the Illini, which led 7-3 at halftime in its first January bowl since the 2008 Rose Bowl but watched the Bulldogs (9-5) score 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

The loss closes out the one-year Illini career of quarterback Tommy DeVito. He went 23-for-34 passing for 253 yards and scampered one yard in the second quarter for Illinois' lone touchdown, but was sacked a season-high seven times by an aggressive Mississippi State defense.  Isaiah Williams tied his season best with nine catches for 114 yards, his best total of the season.

The Illini missed All-American running back Chase Brown.  The Doak Walker Award finalist opted to skip the game to avoid potential injury and begin to prepare for this spring's NFL Draft.  Reggie Love III was the leading rusher with 53 yards, but Illinois rushed for just 35 yards as a team.  That was the lowest total since they gained just 26 yards on the ground against Wisconsin on October 9th, 2021.

This was the first game Illinois played without defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, who left last month to take the head coaching job at Purdue.  Defensive backs coach Aaron Henry was promoted to take his place and his unit held the Bulldogs far below their regular season average of 32.7 points per game.  A defense without All-Americans Devin Witherspoon and Sydney Brown intercepted Will Rogers III twice as Matthew Bailey and Kendall Smith added to Illinois' nation-leading total of 24 interceptions.

Mississippi State was playing its first game under new head coach Zach Arnett.  The Bulldogs' defensive coordinator was promoted after the sudden death of Mike Leach last month.  The SEC representative was on the verge of being shut out of the end zone until Will Rogers III connected with Justin Robinson on a 4th down throw from eight yards out on the first play of the 4th quarter to tie the game at 10.

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