Jacksonville, FL – Pat Fitzgerald never won a bowl game at Northwestern as a player, but now he's helped end the Wildcats' long postseason drought as a coach.
An elongated 64-year stretch to be exact.
Venrick Mark, Trevor Siemian and Tyris Jones all ran for touchdowns in No. 21 Northwestern's 34-20 win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
The Wildcats' lone bowl win prior to Tuesday was a victory over California in the 1949 Rose Bowl.
Kain Colter and Siemian split time at quarterback. Siemian threw for 120 yards on 12-of-20 efficiency with an interception, while Colter tossed two picks and completed 9-of-16 passes for 76 yards. Colter added 71 yards on the ground for Northwestern (10-3), which made its fifth consecutive bowl appearances and had dropped nine straight postseason tilts coming in.
"That was our plan all along," Fitzgerald said about playing both quarterbacks. "We really felt like both guys were playing at a high level at the end of the season. We wanted to be able to be multiple in what we were trying to do and what we were trying to accomplish."
Dan Vitale caught seven passes for 82 yards in the win.
Tyler Russell struggled mightily and completed just 12 passes on 28 attempts for 106 yards with four interceptions for the Bulldogs (8-5), who lost five of their last six contests to close the year after a 7-0 start.
The Bulldogs hadn't lost a bowl game since the 1999 Cotton Bowl.
"At times I thought we did some very good things during the day today, but there were times when we made some very big mistakes. When that stuff happens and you get out of sync, you see what happens," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
Mississippi State overcame three Russell interceptions over the first 14-plus minutes and a 13-0 deficit before tying the contest with a 47-yard field goal on the Bulldogs' first possession of the second half.
Northwestern, though, answered with a pair of touchdowns on its next three treks to take a 14-point lead.
Siemian had back-to-back completions to Demetrius Fields and Vitale for 27 and 34 yards before Jones scampered in from three yards out.
Following a Mississippi State punt, Siemian gave the ball right back to the Bulldogs after Nickoe Whitley picked him off. But Mississippi State did nothing with the miscue and Siemian capped off an 8-play, 74-yard drive with a 4-yard TD scamper to make it 27-13 late in the frame.
Russell had thrown for just 45 yards on the Bulldogs' first 10 offensive marches, but tabulated 43 yards through the air on Mississippi State's ensuing 8-play, 60-yard sequence, which culminated when Russell found Malcolm Johnson for a 14-yard score.
Mississippi State got the ball back following a Wildcats' three-and-out, but Russell was intercepted by Nick VanHoose, who returned the pick 29 yards. A Bulldogs penalty on the play placed the ball at the 5-yard line. Mark plunged in two plays later to make it 34-20 midway through the fourth.
The Bulldogs punted on their next series and Northwestern took the next 3:58 off the clock and Mississippi State regained possession at their own 20 with 2:54 left. But Quentin Williams, who returned a pick 29 yards for a score on the third offensive play of the game, sacked Russell on 4-and-20 to seal the outcome.
Following Williams' touchdown, Russell was picked off again on Miss State second series, which led to a Jeff Budzien 34-yard field goal. Budzien booted through a 37-yarder early in the second for a 13-0 spread.
Devon Bell nailed a 27-yard field goal midway through the stanza and Russell's 18-yard TD strike to Arcelo Clark with a little over a minute left in the half cut the deficit to 13-10 heading into the break.
Fitzgerald, who lost the 1996 Rose Bowl and 1997 Citrus Bowl as a member of the Wildcats, has the school record for wins with 50 ... This was the first matchup between the two schools.