The University of Louisville needed almost three complete quarters to gain the lead in the 2019 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Once it did, Mississippi State was never able to recover.
Falling behind 14-7, Louisville scored 31 consecutive points.
The run included a 24-yard TD toss from quarterback Micale Cunningham to Devante Peete that put them in front 17-14 at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter.
The Cardinals’ 38-28 victory completes an 8-5 season under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield.
“I’m really excited about what we were able to accomplish this year with our staff and players,” said Satterfield, who coached Appalachian State from 2013 through 2018.
“Coming into the season there probably weren’t many people who even thought we would be going to the postseason.”
Satterfield turned around a program that went 2-10 (0-8 in the ACC) last season under Bobby Petrino and interim coach Lorenzo Ward.
Mississippi State, which had to win three of its last four regular season games to become bowl eligible, ends the year at 6-7.
“This obviously wasn’t the outcome we wanted,” noted Bulldogs coach Joe Morehead. “To win an Eggbowl (over archrival Ole Miss) and get to this game, to me, is a credit to our seniors and this staff.
“These leaders battled through a ton of adversity this season, from injuries to other things.”
The adversity continued right from the start of the bowl game, as leading running back Kylin Hill was banged upon on the very first play and was used only sparingly the rest of the night.
State was forced to look to senior backup running back Nick Gibson and true freshman Lee Witherspoon to pick up the slack, and each made valuable contributions.
Witherspoon, himself, missed most of the season due to a lower body injury. Last year he set Alabama high school records for the most rushing touchdowns (53) and total touchdowns (59) during his senior season at North Jackson in nearby Stevenson, Ala. He averaged more than 19 yards per carry as a high school senior.
The Bulldogs dominated the game early, taking advantage of a Louisville fumble at the Mississippi State one-yard line on the Cardinals’ opening possession. Bulldogs quarterback Tommy Stevens led his team 99 yards in eight plays, culminating with a three-yard touchdown run at the 4:10 mark of the first quarter. Jace Christmann’s PAT put State up 7-0.
Witherspoon accounted for an 11-yard carry on the drive and was instrumental in execution of a flea flicker play, running up the middle on a handoff, then tossing back to Stevens, who then connected on a 27-yard pass to Javonta Payton to put the Bulldogs in the red zone and set up the first score.
The boys from Starkville increased their lead to 14-0 when Stevens took his team on another impressive drive early in the second quarter. It covered 80 yards in 10 plays and was punctuated by the controversial ejection of Louisville linebacker Dorian Etheridge, who was caught kicking at an opposing player following a tackle. Louisville fans voiced their disagreement with the call when replay revealed the kick wasn’t much more than a tug of the foot in an effort to separate himself from a Mississippi State player.
Louisville seemed to sense that the game was about to get away. The urgency put in motion the 31-point swing that began when Cunningham tossed a screen to Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell, who then threw a 33-yard touchdown strike across field to tight end Marshon Ford.
Atwell finished the night with nine catches for 147 yards, enough to make him Louisville’s all-time single-season receiver with 1,276 yards.
Louisville place kicker Ryan Chalifoux knocked through a 31-yard field goal as the first half expired.
Javian Hawkins led the Cardinals with 105 rushing yards and a touchdown. Louisville outgained State offensively 510 yards to 366.