Jacksonville, Fla. • The stuffed monkey spent the last year in storage, out of sight but still in everyone's mind.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald dusted it off for the Gator Bowl and even had it on the sideline Tuesday as a reminder of Northwestern's decades-long, bowl losing streak the ol' monkey on their backs.
Now, it's in pieces.
Behind huge interceptions early and late, No. 21 Northwestern beat Mississippi State 34-20 and snapped college football's longest postseason losing streak. The Wildcats (10-3) hadn't won a bowl game since 1949, a nine-game skid that was tied with Notre Dame for the longest in NCAA history.
It's history now. And as a reward, Fitzgerald let his players rip the monkey to shreds in the locker room.
"We've never been here before, but now we're here and here to stay with a new streak you can talk about in a positive fashion," Fitzgerald said.
Quentin Williams returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the game, and Nick VanHoose set up another touchdown with a 39-yard interception return in the fourth. Those plays were the difference in a back-and-forth game that featured more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six).
In between, Northwestern's two-quarterback system kept the Bulldogs (8-5) off balance most of the day.
Scrambler Kain Colter ran for 71 yards, making up for his two interceptions. Backup Trevor Siemian threw for 120 yards and an interception, and also ran for a score.
Even with the turnovers, they were more efficient than Mississippi State's Tyler Russell.
Russell completed 12 of 28 passes for 106 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He had only thrown six picks in the first 11 games this season.
He threw interceptions on Mississippi State's first two possessions and tossed another one early in the second quarter. After falling behind 13-0, Russell settled down and got the Bulldogs back in the game.
"I talked to him going into the locker room after the third pick, said 'Go into the locker room, splash some water on your face, readjust your pads and forget that you came out to start the game,'" said coach Dan Mullen, whose team lost five of its final six games.
Northwestern 34,Mississippi St. 20
Mississippi St. 0 10 3 7 20
Northwestern 10 3 14 7 34
NU • Q.Williams 29 interception return (Budzien kick), 14:13.
NU • FG Budzien 34, 4:49.
NU • FG Budzien 37, 14:48.
MSSt • FG Bell 27, 4:48.
MSSt • Clark 18 pass from Russell (Bell kick), 1:06.
MSSt • FG Bell 47, 10:37.
NU • Ty.Jones 3 run (Budzien kick), 9:25.
NU • Siemian 4 run (Budzien kick), :26.
MSSt • M.Johnson 14 pass from Russell (Bell kick), 11:42.
NU • Mark 3 run (Budzien kick), 8:10.
Attendance • 48,612.
First downs 18 19
Rushes-yards 33-186 40-161
Passing 106 196
Comp-Att-Int 12-29-4 21-36-3
Return Yards (-22) 78
Punts-Avg. 5-43.2 5-43.4
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 6-47 2-20
Time of Possession 26:12 33:48
Rushing • Mississippi St., J.Robinson 7-91, Perkins 19-84, Prescott 2-20, Bumphis 1-3, Russell 4-(minus 12). Northwestern,
Colter 11-71, Mark 13-56, Siemian 2-14, Ty.Jones 6-14, Trumpy 3-7,
Riley 2-5, Team 3-(minus 6).
Passing • Mississippi St., Russell 12-28-4-106, Prescott 0-1-0-0. Northwestern, Siemian 12-20-1-120, Colter 9-16-2-76.
Receiving • Mississippi St., Clark 3-36, Bumphis 3-18, M.Johnson 2-24, C.Smith 2-24, Marcus 1-7, J.Robinson 1-(minus 3).
Northwestern, Vitale 7-82, C.Jones 5-39, Fields 2-41, Lawrence 2-18, K.Prater 2-7, Mark 2-3, Riley 1-6.