by Hunter Dawkins & Calvin Ishee
Despite winning only one of their last four games and the crowd being mildly modest at best, the University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Golden Eagles “Nasty Bunch” defense delivered with multiple turnovers and upset one of the top-ranked teams in Conference USA, the Marshall Thundering Herd, 26-24 to remain bowl eligible. Additionally, the game was hosted as the Military Appreciation Day on the Hattiesburg campus of USM.
The play that broke Marshall’s back was a fourth down in the fourth quarter where senior place-kick holder, Carter Hankins pulled a fake field goal and threw a 16-yard pass to Kiln-DeLisle native Ray Ladner. Ladner dropped the pass, but the Thundering Herd defense was called for pass interference. This gave USM the ball close to the end zone and after three plays, the Golden Eagles freshman quarterback Tate Whatley snuck in for a score with 7:13 left. The extra point failed, but the Golden Eagles were up 26-17, which Marshall could not rebound from.
A few internal battles on both sides of the ball took place for the Golden Eagles (4-4, 3-2) at M.M. Roberts Stadium Saturday afternoon, such as the sidelining of USM’s starting quarterback Jack Abraham, who was banged up from last week’s road game against the Charlotte 49ers. In came, freshman Whatley, who accounted for 50 of the 70 offensive plays during the game, but the Golden Eagles were held to a mere 222 yards of total offense.
When asked if the numerous quarterback runs were part of the game plan, USM Head Football Coach Jay Hopson stated, “No they didn’t plan on that many quarterback runs.” Discussing more of the strategy, Hopson expressed, “that’s just how it turned out.”
Defensively, the Golden Eagles were all around the ball for most of the game. USM had four turnovers, three accounted for 17 points, including senior linebacker Darian Yancey with a 17-yard return for a touchdown with 33 seconds before the half. “Our defense takes a lot of pride in stopping the run and its pass capability,” Hopson said. “I’ve been a defensive coach forever, and you can’t just stop one side. You have to stop both.”
Self-inflicted wounds continue to plague Southern Miss, as the Golden Eagles suffered from 10 penalties for 90 yards and having two turnovers themselves. And yet, USM managed just enough offense and bowed up with strong defense to pick up its third consecutive home win.
Local high school players were invited to the Hattiesburg campus to watch the game, including Long Beach High School Quarterback Cade Crosby who just finished his season Friday night with over 2000 yards and 23 touchdown passes.
Next game for Southern Miss is on the road against the University of Alabama-Birmingham at 6:30pm in Birmingham. The game is dedicated for a salute to service.