With their best season in the recent past, TU finished their football season during Christmas break. Their success even earned them a spot in the American Athletic Conference Championship and the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl game.
The Golden Hurricane finished the regular season with a record of 6-2 — their best record since 2016. They had wins against the then #11 ranked University of Central Florida (UCF) with a score of 34-26, The University of South Florida (USF) with a score of 42-13, East Carolina University (ECU) with a score of 34-30, the then #19 ranked Southern Methodist University (SMU) with a score of 28-24, Tulane with a score of 30-24 and Navy with a score of 19-6. Ther two losses came against the then #11 ranked Oklahoma State University with a score of 16-7 and the then #9 ranked Cincinnati with a score of 27-24 in the conference championship.
It was a rainy night when the Cincinnati Bearcats hosted the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the AAC Championship Game. Despite Cincinnati being the higher ranked team and getting out to a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, Tulsa came back in the second quarter and tied the game at 10 points each when Zach Long kicked a 43-yard field goal and Corey Taylor II had a 10-yard touchdown rush. Twice more, Cincinnati took the lead, but Tulsa came right back and tied the game both times. However, this was not enough as Cincinnati kicked a field goal as time expired and won the game by a score of 27-24. After the game, as Philip Montgomery was speaking to the media, he said, “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. Left it all out there on the field, made plays. We’re going to fight for 60 minutes, every second of it. We did that again tonight.”
Despite losing the AAC championship game, Tulsa still punched their ticket to a bowl game where they played the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Before the game, a small fight occurred between the two teams. The referees quickly stopped this; however, it foreshadowed what would later come. While Tulsa never led the entire game, Deneric Prince had a 14-yard touchdown rush, Corey Taylor II had a 5-yard touchdown rush, Keylon Stokes had a 15-yard reception touchdown from Zach Smith and Zach Long made two field goals.
Unfortunately, all this was overshadowed by what happened after the game was finished. Moments after both teams met at midfield, a brawl began. This time, it was much larger than what happened before the game began. Many players from both teams began fighting, and it took coaches from both teams as well as game security officers stepping in to separate the two teams. This left a bad mark on what was an otherwise normal football game. After the game,
Montgomery had this to say about what happened: “The one thing I’ll say is our program, our guys, we’re a team that are going to stand up for each other, and we’re going to battle. We talk about faith, family, football and family’s going to take care of family. We’re a team that has battled all year long. We battled again today. From that standpoint, our guys are going to continue to protect each other and go from there.”
Even though Tulsa lost its last two games of the season, there were many players on the team who had a phenomenal season. One of those players was Zaven Collins, a defensive linebacker. Most recently, he won the Chuck Bednarik award. In addition to this award, he also won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and first team All-American honors from the Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), The Sporting News, CBS Sports, Walter Camp Foundation, Pro Football Focus, Phil Steele Magazine and the Atlantic.
Despite losing the last two games of the season, because of Zaven Collins and many other players, Tulsa still had a great season and will look to build on this in the upcoming college football season.