TAMPA, Fla. (WCIA) — Illinois (8-5) kept Mississippi State (9-4) out of the endzone for three quarters, but could not take advantage of the dominant performance by the Illini defense falling to the Bulldogs in the ReliaQuest Bowl 19-10.

The Illini offense struggled to get anything going, not finding the endzone until the end of the second quarter when Tommy DeVito snuck it in from two yards out. MSU tallied a field goal before the half to make it 7-3 going into the break.

True freshman Matthew Bailey and senior Kendall Smith picked off Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers on back-to-back drives in the first half, stalling the Bulldog offense while it was driving each time.

The Illinois stoppers finally broke at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Rogers found Justin Robinson in the back of the endzone to tie the game at 10. Punter Hugh Robertson placed MSU at its own 21-yard line with under two minutes remaining, but Rogers led the Bulldogs down the field to line up the game-winning field goal with seven seconds left.

Illinois had one more play on offense, that gained a fair bit of yardage before a pitch was intercepted by the Bulldog defense and returned for a touchdown on the final play.

“When it’s crunch time, just knowing where to be at the right time and just going out and playing the call and not beating ourselves throughout the game with little penalties and mental errors here and there,” Quan Martin said.

“We just this close, you know? That’s how I sum it up,” Isaiah Williams said. “We’ve got to keep going and little things, we’ve got to learn how to win those close games cause good teams know how to win those close games and that’s how I sum it up. I feel like we had a decent season but we lost too many close ones that we should have won.”

“You know that falls directly to me as a head coach we’ve got to find the answers to come through,” Bret Bielema said. “Some of it has been offensively, defensively, special teams had a factor in some of these. It’s kind of a mixed bag.”

Bielema and the Illini end the season at 8-5, winning just one of their final five games. It still marks the most wins in a season by an Illinois team since 2007.