45-Year CFB Anniversary: McNeese State Rallies Past Tulsa in Inaugural Independence Bowl, 20-16

by Mike Ferguson

Photo courtesy of Independence Bowl

It isn’t one of the most heralded bowls, but with there being more than 40 currently in existence, the Independence Bowl is one of the oldest.

It was first played on this day 45 years ago. The inaugural Independence Bowl in Shreveport did not disappoint and wasn’t decided until the final minute.

Oliver Hadnot’s 25-yard touchdown run served as the game-winner as McNeese State rallied past Tulsa, 20-16.

Setting the Stage

The 11th-oldest current bowl, the Independence Bowl featured a pair of conference champions on Dec. 13, 1976. McNeese State (now McNeese) had defeated Southwest Louisiana (now Louisiana) 20-19 in the regular-season finale to represent the Southland Conference. The Cowboys arrived at State Fair Stadium with a record of 9-2.

At 7-3-1, Tulsa had won the Missouri Valley Conference. The Golden Hurricane came in as heavy favorites. McNeese State was without a handful of key players due to eligibility issues and suspensions.

McNeese State Prevails

Trailing 16-14 late, it looked as though the Cowboys’ hopes of an upset had fallen by the wayside. On 4th-and-7 near midfield, an interception had seemingly killed their hopes. Called on the play however, were a pair of 15-yard penalties on Tulsa, keeping the drive alive.

Jan Peebles had made a pair of field goals for McNeese State as the Cowboys neared his range. Hadnot however, had other plans.

Needing two yards for a first down, Hadnot broke through on his way to the end zone. His 25-yard touchdown run with 37 seconds left was the difference as the shorthanded Cowboys prevailed despite being without 16 players and a starting quarterback who was injured early in the contest.

The Golden Hurricane had taken a 16-14 lead on Steve Cox’s 38-yard field goal with less than five minutes to play. Tulsa’s touchdowns came on a 1-yard run by Thomas Bailey and a 65-yard return of a blocked kick by Mel McGowen.

McNeese trailed 7-0 early, but drew to within one by halftime on Peebles’ two field goals. The Cowboys took their first lead in the third quarter on Mike McArthur’s 1-yard touchdown run, which was followed by a successful 2-point try.

In Hindsight

After winning its first conference championship, the victory gave McNeese State a 10-win season. The Cowboys have since moved to FCS, but have gone on to win the Southland Conference 14 times.

As for the Independence Bowl, it was played in 44 straight years before last season’s cancellation over COVID-19 concerns. McNeese State and Tulsa have each played in the game three times.

The lone win for either school in Shreveport came in the only head-to-head matchup and in the bowl’s inaugural contest on this day 45 years ago.

References

The Argus-Press

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.

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