FORT WORTH, TX – Lideatrick Griffin recorded 155 all-purpose yards and added a touchdown catch as Mississippi State outlasted No. 24 Tulsa in the 2020 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, 28-26.
However, Immediately after the game concluded, both teams engaged in a full-on brawl following postgame handshakes. This came as a response of words exchanged in pregame warmups.
According to footage aired on ESPN, a member of the Tulsa staff threw punches at a Mississippi State player when the two teams met at midfield. Mississippi State’s Malik Heath appeared to kick several Tulsa players in response.
Tulsa head coach Phillip Montgomery said he didn’t see what started the brawl, but thought safety Kendarin Ray might have suffered a concussion as a result of the melee.
“Family’s going to take care of family,” Montgomery said in his postgame press conference.
“I’m curious what happened,” Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach said afterward. “We haven’t had any problems with that this season. It seemed like problems arose from the handshakes.”
In a response to wintry mix and steady downpour in unseasonably cold North Texas temperatures, Mississippi State blended an extremely balanced offensive attack that recorded 148 yards in the air and 123 on the ground.
Even so, it was the Bulldogs’ play on defense and special teams that separated them from the American Conference runner-up Tulsa. Griffin recorded 121 yards on four kick returns, consistently giving freshman quarterback Will Rogers short fields. All of Mississippi State’s touchdowns on the day came from first-year players.
“We’ve got some young guys that are enthusiastic and developing into gritty guys,” Leach said.
That included one from defensive back Emmanuel Forbes, who changed the game with an interception return for a touchdown- his third of the season- in the third quarter. The 90-yard pick six set a record for the longest in program history.
Tulsa quarterback Zach Smith, who started his collegiate career at Baylor, struggled in his return to the Lone Star state, completing 26 of 46 passes with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Mississippi State took advantage of the NCAA waiving its normal six-wins required to clinch a bowl bid due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After starting its conference-only slate 2-7, the win marked consecutive victories for the first time under head coach Mike Leach.
Tulsa, on the other hand, ends a successful campaign with consecutive narrow postseason losses. Head coach Phillip Montgomery pioneered a marked improvement in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 seasons after 3-9 and 4-8 campaigns in 2018 and 2019.
“From start to finish this group has had a belief about them,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to continue to get better.”
The win marked Mississippi State’s first bowl triumph since the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl. Tulsa’s bowl win drought continues into a fourth season.