Mississippi State will be making its third Orange Bowl appearance in school history when they take on Georgia Tech in the 81st annual Orange Bowl on December 31. State’s first-ever bowl appearance also occurred at the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1937.
(Mississippi State did compete in an earlier post-season bowl game when they played & defeated the Havana Athletic Club on January 1, 1912 in the Bacardi Bowl played in Havana, Cuba. But the 1937 Orange Bowl was the school’s first against NCAA competition.)
In that 1937 Orange Bowl appearance, the Bulldogs (then called the Maroons) dropped a heartbreaking 13-12 decision to Duquesne when the Dukes completed a 72 yard pass in the closing minutes to thwart the Maroons’ upset bid. Notable in that game was the play of running back Ike Pickle, who scored the game’s first touchdown in the first quarter on a ten yard run. Later Pickle booted an 82 yard punt, an Orange Bowl record that still stands today.
Mississippi State returned to the Orange Bowl at the conclusion of the 1940 season, following a 9-0-1 regular season. The opponent in the 1941 game was Georgetown, a powerhouse in Eastern football circles in those days.
The Maroons got on the scoreboard first in the first quarter, when team captain and All-SEC guard Hunter Corhern sliced through the Hoya’s punt team and blocked a punt. John Tripson, an All-SEC tackle, recovered the ball in the end zone to give State an early 7-0 lead following Wilber Dees’ PAT.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Maroons struck again when Billy Jefferson dove into the end zone from the two yard line. The PAT by Sonny Bruce gave State a 14-0 lead. State did not score again in the game, but the powerful defense, anchored by Tripson, Corhern and All-American end Buddy Elrod, took over.
In the third quarter, Georgetown mounted an 85 yard drive that ended with a 2 yard touchdown plunge by fullback Jim Castiglia, which cut the Mississippi State lead to 14-7. There would be no further scoring in the game, but the Maroons would need a fourth quarter goal line stand to secure the victory.
Georgetown received a Mississippi State punt at their 24 yard line and got a nice return all the way to the State 40 yard line. The Hoyas picked up a couple of first downs, including one on a fourth down conversion to reach the Maroon 8 yard line.
Three straight running plays yielded only two yards, and on fourth and goal from the six, the Hoyas’s pass into the end zone fell incomplete and the Maroons had secured a 14-7 victory. While a tie with Auburn during the regular season cost the Orange Bowl champions a share of the SEC title, Mississippi State would parlay its 1940 success into an SEC championship the following season.
Amazingly, there is rare actual video footage from the 1941 Orange Bowl game…