TAMPA, Fla. – Mississippi State played its Reliaquest Bowl game Monday, three weeks after coach Mike Leach passed away due to complications from a heart condition.
There were several remembrances of the beloved coach throughout Raymond James Stadium. “Mike” was in red letters between the 20- and 30-yard lines on the Bulldogs’ side of the field.
A photo and flowers were left by the pirate ship in the north end zone, and the Mississippi State band spelled “Leach” during its pregame performance. Flags draped on the wall behind the MSU sideline honored Leach, a few with the words “Swing Your Sword,” the title of his 2011 autobiography.
The Bulldogs swung their sword Monday. Massimo Biscardi’s 27-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in the game gave MSU a 13-10 lead in a 19-10 win over Illinois.
“He was with us all game,” said running back Simeon Price, who ran for 48 of his 68 yards on the decisive drive, including a 28-yard run on third-and-eight to the Illinois two-yard line that up the field goal. “I got a little emotional after the big run. I just knew he would be proud of the team, what we did in this game, how we executed, and how it came down to the wire, and we did what we were supposed to do.”
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Leach spent most of his last 23 years as a head coach at Texas Tech, Washington State, and Mississippi State, where he arrived nearly three years ago to the day (Jan. 9, 2020) of Monday’s game.
Zach Arnett, who served as Leach’s defensive coordinator and was elevated to head coach, led the Bulldogs through a difficult time.
“Obviously, coach Leach has been leading this program for three years, and he was out there leading us today,” he said. “I think all (the players did) was listen to the teachings of coach Leach over the last three years, and they came in handy over the last several weeks.”