OXFORD – Only in the Egg Bowl would you hear these words from the referee: “We’ve got unsportsmanlike conduct on all the players from both teams.”

That’s what referee James Carter announced after a brief, sideline-clearing brawl at the end of the third quarter of Thursday night’s Mississippi State-Ole Miss game. Moments later Carter informed us the play resulting in the brawl didn’t count because Ole Miss snapped the ball after time had expired on the play clock. That’s right: Four players, three of them Bulldogs, were ejected from the 115th Egg Bowl after a play that didn’t even count.

And, no, that wasn’t a particularly good look for Mississippi, the self-proclaimed Hospitality State.

Rick Cleveland

You’ll hear few complaints from the visitors side of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, where Mississippi State’s Bulldogs were in absolute command of what wound up a convincing, 35-3 victory.

This was an absolute butt-kicking is what it was. State out-rushed Ole Miss 309-37, out-gained the Rebels 420-189. State out-blocked, out-tackled, out-hit Ole Miss from start to finish.

One year after Ole Miss shocked State 31-28 in Starkville, the Bulldogs returned the favor. One year after the Rebels celebrated all over Scott Field, the Bulldogs did likewise, planting the school flag right at the 50-yard-line.

As you might expect, that didn’t go over well at all. Coaches, players and administrators – including athletic directors Ross Bjork and John Cohen, exchanged heated words. Thankfully, no punches were thrown post-game.

There was plenty of that during the end-of-the-third-quarter mayhem. Freshman quarterback Matt Corral completed what appeared to be a 41-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Brown, who fought his way into the end zone, with State safety Johnathan Abram wresting him to the ground.

That’s when some pushing and shoving – and plenty of jawing – started and quickly escalated in the north end zone. From a review of the TV coverage, Abram threw the first punch at Brown, who retaliated. A few feet away, Corral got into it with State safety Jamal Peters, who ripped Corral’s helmet off before they were separated.

Both benches cleared, but order was quickly restored. Both coaching staffs ushered their players back to the sidelines. Officials ejected Peters, State cornerback Cameron Dantzler and Ole Miss defensive back C.J. Moore. State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. was ejected because the blanket unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was his second of the game.

Those ejections most likely will keep all those State players from playing in at least the first half of State’s bowl game. And there could be more penalties to come after the SEC office reviews the film.

Neither State’s Joe Moorhead or the Rebels’ Matt Luke was happy with the extra-curricular activity.

“It’s not what you want in a rivalry game,” Luke said. “You want the play to be between the whistles.”

Moorhead said he was too busy trying to get his players to the sidelines to see what happened during the fight and wanted to see the film before commenting other than: “We want our play to be between the whistles not after.”

Clearly, he was happy with what happened between whistles this night. State’s defense was stifling. The offense, led by senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, was clicking.

“From the start we were going to run the ball straight at them until they stopped us,” Fitzgerald said.

Ole Miss rarely did and Fitzgerald finished with 117 yards and two touchdowns running and 111 yards and one touchdown passing. So how did it feel to have that much success one year after suffering a ghastly ankle injury against this same Ole Miss team?

“It felt great, honestly,” Fitzgerald said, pausing to find more words and then settling with: “It just feels great.”

Like nearly all football games, at any level, this one was decided mostly at the line of scrimmage. State won it both offensively and defensively. Through gaping holes, Kylin Hill ran for 108 yards and Aeris Williams for another 65. Meanwhile, State’s talented defensive front sacked Ole Miss quarterbacks four times and limited the Rebels to just 37 yards on 29 running plays.

Years from now, unfortunately, the 2018 Egg Bowl will be remembered more for what happened after the whistles than between them. This is nothing new. This football series began in 1901, amid bickering about unfair play and ineligible players. It has seen pre-game, in-game and post-game brawls, some involving fans as well as players. Even the Golden Egg trophy was created in 1927 after scary post-game brawl the year before when Ole Miss won 7-6 at Starkville. Celebrating Ole Miss students swarmed the field to take down the goal posts. State fans defended those posts, some with wooden chairs they splintered over the invaders heads.

Here we are 91 years later. Progress? Well, no wooden chairs were employed this night.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.