ST. PETERSBURG — College football's gluttonous postseason slate, already rife with poinsettias and potatoes, got a bit more superfluous Monday.
It got more cowbell. Lots of 'em, in fact.
Their cacophony hit a crescendo Monday afternoon inside Tropicana Field, when 305-pound Mississippi State defensive tackle Nelson Adams blocked Nick Dowd's 37-yard field goal attempt with five seconds to play.
With one fell swat, the Bulldogs' 17-16 triumph against Miami (Ohio) in the St. Petersburg Bowl was preserved.
"We had noticed on film that (Dowd) kind of kicked line drives," said Adams, whose team also blocked a Dowd extra-point try in the first half. "So all that was going through my head is, 'Get your hands up as quick as you can.' "
Adams' outstretched heroics — before an announced 15,717 — provided a fitting bookend to a 6-7 season that began when kicker Westin Graves missed a 28-yard field goal in the final seconds of a 21-20 loss to South Alabama.
On Monday, Graves hit a 36-yarder with 12:03 remaining to give MSU the lead for good and complement a team-MVP performance by quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (142 rushing yards, 126 passing yards, two rushing touchdowns).
"It's been an interesting year," said Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen, whose team lost four games by a touchdown or less and received a bowl berth via an above-average APR score (971).
"If you look, throughout the year … we lost a bunch of games on the final play of the game. I told the guys in the locker room afterward, we're here because we didn't give up. We're here because we kept battling all the way."
That resilience was a prerequisite against Miami (6-7), which was trying to add a scintillating final chapter to arguably college football's most improbable story of 2016. The Redhawks entered on a six-game win streak after losing their first six, unprecedented at the NCAA level per the Elias Sports Bureau.
After Graves' go-ahead field goal, the Redhawks drove nine plays before quarterback Gus Ragland's rollout pass on fourth and 1 from the Bulldogs 32 fell incomplete.
But Ragland and Co. got one more chance when MSU backup quarterback Damian Williams — flushed to his left — tossed an incompletion on fourth and 4 from Miami's 22 with 3:29 to go.
"We're in Westin's range, but I'm thinking they're gonna get a possession. And they've got some big receivers; they won a couple of jump balls," Mullen said.
"So I thought, 'If we get the first down here, I think we really could put the game away.' … And we had the look for the play that we wanted, just didn't execute it as clean as we wanted to."
Miami responded briskly, getting to the Bulldogs 17 when Ragland (21-of-29, 257 yards) found 6-foot-4 wideout James Gardner (five catches, 92 yards) for a 23-yard completion with 20 seconds to play. From there, Miami ran two sneaks, with MSU calling a timeout after both.
"Yeah, I thought about (going for a touchdown) a lot, probably more than I should have," Miami coach Chuck Martin said. "We had time; we had two timeouts. But we were sitting on a 35-yard field goal to beat Mississippi State and I'm a pretty stupid head coach if somehow we get sacked or turn it over."
Moments later, Adams was deflecting Dowd's kick, and the Bulldogs were going out with a clang. Cowbell-style.
"Obviously we could have played a little bit better at times," Bulldogs linebacker Richie Brown said. "But when we needed to make the big plays we made it and that's what counts."
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.