RUSTON – Southern Miss rallied from 11 points down with less than four minutes to play in regulation and then got two defensive stops, including the game-clinching one in the second overtime, as the Golden Eagles downed Louisiana Tech 34-27 before 17,815 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday night.
J’Mar Smith’s two-yard TD run with 4:08 to play in the game gave the Bulldogs (3-4, 1-2 C-USA) a 27-16 lead and capped an impressive five-play, 96-yard drive that was highlighted by an 82-yard reception by Marlon Watts. The score gave the Tech faithful what turned out to be a false sense of security.
“I thought that Marlon Watts made a great play over here on the sideline when we were backed up and got the ball all the way down there and then we ended up running it in,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “You take an 11-point lead and we just weren’t able to hold on to it.
“Defensively, I thought we did some really good things, but we weren’t very good on third down. We couldn’t get off the field. There were a number of third and medium situations, and we just couldn’t get off the field. It’s just unfortunate.”
Following the Smith touchdown, Southern Miss (5-2, 3-1 C-USA) drove down to the Tech 32 before Parker Shaunfield connected on a 49-yard field goal with 1:23 to play to cut the deficit to 27-19. The Bulldogs were an onside kick away from the win.
However, Tech’s special teams were unable to recover the onside kick and following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against USM, the Golden Eagles started on their own 37 yard line with just one timeout to play. Three plays later, Keon Howard tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Korey Robertson with 31 seconds to play in regulation and then found Jay’Shawn Washington for the two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.
“As hard as these players work and as supportive of a fan base as we have to come out here and to play at home,” said Holtz. “And I’m sure there’s a message in all this, when you look at some of the way that we have lost games with South Carolina and this one and UAB. But all I know is you better have an incredible amount of resolve.”
In the first overtime, Smith had a wide open Kam McKnight running a seam route on second down, but his pass was thrown flat allowing Tarvarius Moore to intercept it, ending the Bulldog possession.
Needing only a field goal to win the game, Southern Miss decided to put the ball in the air on second down. Tech freshman cornerback Amik Robertson made a game-saving play by ripping the pass away from the USM receiver for his second interception of the year.
“We got talent in that locker room, we’ve got some willing players that we have got to do a better job as coaches, we have got to put them in better chances to give them a chance to be successful, and we have got to have some resolve,” said Holtz. “And the thing that happens sometimes when you lose, you get frustrated and but we got to keep this thing together and we just got to continue to battle.”
It took Southern Miss only one play to take the lead in the second overtime period. Howard hit Robertson for a 25-yard score in the southeast corner of the endzone for the touchdown, giving the Golden Eagles their first lead of the game.
The Bulldogs got a first down on two plays to put the ball on the USM 13 yard line. However, a three-yard loss on a run play on first down and then an 11-yard loss on a sack on second down pushed the football back to the USM 27-yard line. Smith then underthrew Teddy Veal around the USM 10-yard line on third down and had the ball knocked away from him on a fourth down pass, ending the game.
“It’s right up there,” said Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson when asked about the wild ending. “I’ve been in a few wild ones, but that might have taken the cake. It’s right up there at the top. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the players, coaches, we just kept plugging, kept digging, and found a way when it didn’t look like there was a way. And again, it’s just a great team win and just amazing.”
Southern Miss dominated the time of possession in the game, holding the ball for 40:52 compared to Tech’s 19:08. Playing most of the game without running back Ito Smith who was injured in the first half, USM turned to the air, completing 32-of-53 passes for 301 yards and two interceptions.
USM recorded 30 first downs to Tech’s 15.
Smith had a tough night at the office, completing only 11 of 28 passes for 194 yards and one interception. Marlon Watts recorded a career-high 121 yards receiving on five receptions while Teddy Veal added three catches for 56 yards.
Boston Scott registered his third career 100-yard rushing game with 11 carries for 106 yards while Jarred Craft added 10 carries for 45 yards.
Dae’Von Washington registered a career-high 14 tackles while Robertson and Jordan Baldwin each registered 10 tackles.