ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Miami RedHawks came within a hand's reach of finishing an incredible comeback season by winning a bowl game.
But heavily-favored Mississippi State blocked Nick Dowd's 37-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the game to beat Miami 17-16 in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Monday.
"We were one play ahead of them for most of the game, if not more than one, but they were one play ahead of us at the end," Miami coach Chuck Martin said.
The RedHawks marched deep inside Mississippi State territory three times in the fourth quarter but produced no points. They also had an extra point blocked in the first half.
"We had opportunities," Martin said. "When you look at it, it didn't need to come down to that last kick, but it did. They made one more play than us. Tough way to end. That's sports, and that's competition."
The RedHawks were two-touchdown underdogs against their SEC opponents but jumped ahead 9-0 and led through most of the game.
Moeller High product Gus Ragland, who came back from offseason knee surgery to rally Miami from a 0-6 start to a 6-0 finish, threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns. Ragland also threw his first interception of the season early in the fourth quarter - a fourth-down why-not gamble from the Mississippi State 30.
A 21-yard return brought the ball back to the line of scrimmage and Mississippi State marched to a 36-yard field goal that put the Bulldogs ahead with 12:03 remaining.
The RedHawks turned the ball over on downs at the Mississippi State 32 midway through the fourth quarter and reached the 17 before Dowd had his kick blocked by Nelson Adams with five seconds left.
"We had noticed on film that the kicker kind of did line drives," Adams said. "All that was going through my head was get your hands up as quick as you can."
James Gardner and Ryan Smith caught TD passes for Miami.
Martin was proud of his team despite the loss.
Miami's rebound from a poor start was one of the feel-good stories of the year. Finishing in a bowl game against an SEC opponent attracted additional national attention for the RedHawks and also figures to help in recruiting.
"Like I told the guys a couple of weeks ago, if we invited Mississippi State down to spring practice to scrimmage us for 60 minutes, I don't think they'd come. So a pretty good opportunity for Miami football to play Mississippi State and go against some guys that don't look like the guys we normally go against," Martin said. "I thought our kids definitely took advantage of that and made the most of today."
Miami's turnaround carried the RedHawks to a share of the MAC East Division title and provides a solid foundation to build on next season with 13 starters returning, including Ragland. Gardner had an outstanding sophomore season as well, finishing with 45 receptions for 750 yards and six TDs.
Miami became the first team in NCAA history to start 0-6 and finish the regular season 6-6. The senior class that entered school in 2013 had a 5-37 record before the RedHawks began their six-game winning streak in mid-October.
"They should put statues of those guys outside of our stadium," Ragland said.
Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
Both teams finished the season 6-7. The Bulldogs had a losing record for the first time since 2009 but qualified for a postseason berth because of the program's NCAA Academic Progress Rate.