FORT WORTH, Texas — A bowl victory that increased Mississippi State’s win total this season to four and No. 22 Tulsa’s failed attempt to add another unlikely comeback to its impressive collection this season took a back seat to the melee that broke out Thursday shortly after the Armed Forces Bowl ended.
True freshman Will Rogers scored his first rushing touchdown of the season and had a 13-yard TD pass to lead Mississippi State past Tulsa 28-26 in a game that was tense from the start.
Minutes after it ended, the teams became involved in a large brawl on the field, with players punching and kicking one another. Tulsa coach Greg Montgomery said sophomore safety Kendarin Ray, who was helped off the field after being at the bottom of a dog pile during a scrum, was treated for “some sort of concussion.”
“I’m not sure what exactly caused that,” said Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, who referred to the altercation as a “mosh pit.” “It was something before the game, too. We’ve never had any problem with that the entire season, so I can only guess without seeing the film.”
In a video posted from Mississippi State’s locker room, Malik Heath joked about kicking a Tulsa player in the facemask.
“The one thing I’ll say is our program, our guys, we’re a team that are going to stand up for each other and we’re going to battle,” Montgomery said. “We talk about faith, family, football, and family’s going to take care of family. We’re a team that has battled all year long. We battled again today. From that standpoint, our guys are going to continue to protect each other and go from there.”
American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement that the league will work with Tulsa to “conduct a thorough review of the altercation pursuant to our Conference Code of Sportsmanship process and expect that the university will respond accordingly.”
Jo’quavious Marks scored a rushing touchdown on the game’s first possession and Emmanuel Forbes returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown for the Bulldogs (4-7), who finished the season with a second straight win in a game played at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium in cold, rainy conditions.
Mississippi State’s 148 passing yards were its fewest of the season. Marks’ 72 rushing yards and his 28-yard run for the touchdown were the most in each category this season for the Bulldogs, whose 36-yard rushing average going into bowl play was the lowest in the FBS.
Forbes’ third-quarter touchdown was initially called back on an illegal blocking penalty, but the Big Ten Conference officiating crew reversed its ruling to a penalty on Tulsa.
Deneric Prince and Corey Taylor II scored rushing touchdowns, Zach Smith had a 15-yard TD pass to Keylon Stokes and Zack Long kicked field goals of 27 and 33 yards for Tulsa (6-3, No. 24 CFP), which erased four double-digit deficits this season.
Smith was 26 for 46 passing for 347 yards with two interceptions. Tulsa outgained Mississippi State in total offense 484 yards to 271, but the Bulldogs got 138 valuable kickoff return yards from Lideatrick “Tulu” Griffin.
Tulsa pulled to within 21-19 with 12:30 left on Taylor’s 5-yard run, but Smith’s two-point conversion pass intended for Stokes was broken up in the end zone. Mississippi State answered with Rogers’ 13-yard throw to Griffin to go ahead 28-19.
Smith’s 15-yard scoring pass to Stokes came with 1:23 to play, and Tulsa failed to recover the ensuing onside kick. On the play, Mississippi State’s Erroll Thompson leveled Tulsa’s Ryan Nixon and was penalized 15 yards for taunting.