by Hunter Dawkins

A test of poise and not stepping on there own foot to remain bowl eligible was this Saturday’s question at “The Rock”.  The return of Jack Abraham to the lineup along with a few defensive breakups from the “Nasty Bunch” and the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles were victorious over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 21-20.

With the overtime loss to the University of Alabama Birmingham 26-23 in overtime a week ago, there was some concern of playing over the hump against a hot-7-3 rival Louisiana Tech.  “I said it last week after the UAB game that this team would come out fighting,” said Southern Miss (5-5) Head Football Coach Jay Hopson.  “Give these seniors and young men a lot of credit.”

After deferring the opening possession to the Bulldogs, the Eagles put together a thirteen play drive where Steven Anderson dove in for a one-yard touchdown out to put Southern Miss on the board.  With the extra point conversion by Briggs Bourgeois, the score was USM 7-0 with 6:54 left in the first quarter.

The Bulldogs answered with a twelve play drive that ended with Mississippi-native Louisiana Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith tossing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Hardy.  Once Bulldogs kicker Bailey Hale put the extra point through the uprights with 1:28 left, the score was tied 7-7.

At the beginning of the second quarter, USM’s offense got a little roughed up with a sack and a penalty, which led to a punt.  However, the Bulldogs couldn’t get through the Southern Miss Defense, aka “the Nasty Bunch” to give the ball back to the Eagles.

Following a sack on the next possession, Abraham threw a slant to Neil McLaurin, who cut up and ran 49 yards for a Southern Miss touchdown.  Bourgeois put the extra point through with 10:32 left in the half and the score was 14-7 USM.

Next two possessions were three-and-out, until the Bulldogs began a drive with 8:48 left in the half.  Louisiana Tech powered down the sideline with nine plays before rushing in a 6-yard touchdown and converting an extra point to tie the game again.

Southern Miss had a rough offensive possession and bad punt, but were lucky with the Bulldogs receiving a 15-yard personal foul penalty.   The Bulldogs from Ruston drove 60 yards in 11 plays to put the field goal kicker Hale with position to make a 24-yard field goal and a halftime lead 17-14.

No scoring happened during the third quarter, as both teams had problems with sacks, penalties, and a missed field goal from the Bulldogs.

Louisiana Tech began the fourth with a quick drive into USM’s red zone, but couldn’t break through after four plays and Hale came to put a 23-yard field goal through.  The Bulldogs were ahead 20-14 with 13.33 left in the game.

The Golden Eagles put the petal to the metal on the next possession, driving down the field in fourteen plays with Anderson sledging through the middle of the line for a 6-yard touchdown.  Bourgeois’ kick secured USM’s lead 21-20 with 6:02 left in the game.

With pressure mounting, La Tech’s Smith couldn’t connect with any receivers despite hitting one receiver for 33-yards on the first series.  The Bulldogs had to punt to the Eagles, who secured the victory.

“That was a hard fought win,” said Coach Hopson.  “Our kids kept battling, and I couldn’t be prouder of these young men.”

Despite the “Nasty Bunch” holding the Bulldogs to only 311 yards of total offense, USM only produced 280 yards.  The Louisiana Tech defense had four sacks, 11 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.  St. Stanislaus Alum and Louisiana Tech Defensive Tackle Jordan Bradford was part of this mix, making 2 overall tackles and having some hurries.

Southern Miss remains one game from being bowl eligible.  Their final season game will be at the University of Texas El Paso out west on Saturday, November 24.  This game will be at 2pm Central Standard Time that will be connected through an ESPN +.