by Hunter Dawkins

There were a lot of reasons to be excited about Saturday’s game for the 23,337 crowd at the M.M. Roberts Stadium.  The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Golden Eagles (3-2, 1-0) football team prevailed with their first Conference USA win against the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) Miners 31-13 with over 500 yards total offense and the school became the first in the state of Mississippi to allow alcoholic beverages to be sold inside the stadium.

Although both were dynamic aspects for the game, the Golden Eagles jumped on the scoreboard early with a Jack Abraham 74-yard screen pass to Receiver De’Michael Harris after a quality block by tight end Ray Ladner from Kiln-Delisle community for the first touchdown.  When USM’s Kicker Andrew Stein put the extra point through the uprights with 11:35 left in the first quarter, Southern Miss took a 7-0 lead that it never lost.

In the next series, the Miners went through a brief offensive possession before the Golden Eagles player Jordan Mitchell blocked the UTEP punt leading to a two yard touchdown run by USM’s Harris.  Stein converted the extra point for a Southern Miss 14-0 lead at 9:41 in the first quarter.

“De’Michael Harris is a winner that comes to play everyday at practice,” said Southern Miss Head Football Coach Jay Hopson.  “I’ve been fortunate enough to know his whole family and he’s a chip off the old block.”

The defensive units for each team began to hold firm without allowing much on the ground or in the air.  After a short field goal to put the UTEP Miners on the scoreboard, the Golden Eagles answered with a twelve play drive that resulted in a 22-yard touchdown pass from USM Quarterback Abraham to Mitchell.  Once Stein kicked the extra point for Southern Miss, the lead increased to 21-3 with 3:07 left in the half.

As UTEP switched quarterbacks for the ground game, the Miners kicked a 46 yard field goal at what appeared to be the final possession of the half.  The Miners attempted to onside kick the Golden Eagles with 16 seconds left in the half, but USM recovered.  The next play Southern Miss Quarterback Abraham found Receiver Tim Jones from Biloxi for a 29 yard pass to set up a short field goal.

With a questionable stoppage of the game clock after the reception, the officials ruled in the favor of USM having another possession where Stein kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired for the half.  This made the score 24-6 Southern Miss lead at halftime.

Following the halftime break, the Miners came out attempting to make a game.  With Southern Miss having a few incompletions on the opening possession of the half and punting the ball back, UTEP Quarterback Kai Locksley ran up the middle on the first play for a 63-yard touchdown.  The lead was cut to 24-13 after the extra point by the Miners, who would not get any closer at 13:55 in the third quarter.

Southern Miss countered the Miners again with a ten play drive that burned four and a half minutes on the time of possession, as USM quarterback Abraham threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to the Golden Eagles Receiver Jaylon Adams.  Stein converted his final extra point with 8:35 left in the third quarter.

Defensively, the Golden Eagles did not allow the Miners to get into field goal range the rest of the game.  USM missed a few offensive opportunities, but the “Big Nasty” defense of Southern Miss didn’t give up anything on the other side.

“I thought we played fairly well in all three phases,” said Hopson.  “I think we can play better, but it’s something we can build on.”

Statistically, Southern Miss had one of their better performances, as quarterback Abraham finished 19-28 passing for 351 yards and three touchdown.  The Golden Eagles delivered 519 yards total offense while only giving up 249 yards defensively.

Local Harrison County products at USM, Tim Jones had 2 receptions for 32 yards while defensive end Jacques Turner from D’Iberville had 4 tackles and a sack in the fourth quarter to stop a potential UTEP drive.  The offensive line, including starting Tight End Ray Ladner from Kiln Delisle, took control of the line of scrimmage throughout the game.  Receiver Trevor Terry from Long Beach participated as well.

Next week, USM has a bye followed by the homecoming on October 12 against the University of North Texas Mean Green at 6pm in the M.M. Roberts Stadium.