by Hunter Dawkins
While producing an offensive clinic of 563 total yards with six touchdowns and a field goal, the Southern Miss (USM) Golden Eagles football team found a way to stymie the North Texas Mean Green on both sides of the ball before a crowd of 25,225 at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg for a 45-27 victory. The Golden Eagles (4-2, 2-0) executed a quality game plan for their annual homecoming by limiting the Mean Green to a minimal 378 yards total offense (2-4, 1-1) in a key Conference USA win. Additionally, four players from the Mississippi Gulf Coast notably contributed to the USM victory.
With an early celebration for his birthday, Southern Miss Head Football Coach Jay Hopson expressed an importance to this balance. “I really felt like we did well in all phases of the game,” said Hopson. “Sometimes you may run the ball a little more than you pass offensively or the other way around, but we want to be a balanced football team.”
The opening possession of the game, the USM Golden Eagles got to work immediately on offense behind a four play series, which resulted in a 59-yard touchdown screen pass from Southern Miss Quarterback Jack Abraham to Running Back De’Michael Harris with 13:37 left in the first quarter. After the touchdown, the extra point was blocked making the score an early 6-0 lead by USM.
Following a quick return of the favor, the Mean Green threw a 45-yard touchdown pass from North Texas Quarterback Mason Fine to Receiver Jyaire Shorter with a converted extra point by kicker Ethan Mooney. This gave North Texas a 7-6 lead at 12:55 in the first quarter.
Subsequently, both teams traded a few possessions before USM Running Back Harris jolted up the middle on a 60-yard touchdown run with 33 seconds left in the quarter. Southern Miss kicker Andrew Stein put this kick through the up-rights to give the Golden Eagles the lead at the end of the quarter 13-7.
Exchanging possessions, the Mean Green eventually took the lead again with a 53-yard touchdown from Fine to a wide-open North Texas receiver Jaelon Darden due to a missed assignment by the Southern Miss defense. Mooney’s extra point switched the scoreboard lead to 14-13 North Texas.
As the USM Golden Eagles could not find an offensive rhythm on the next series and put the ball back in the hands of the Mean Green. Fortunately for Southern Miss, Defensive Back Rachuan Mitchell intercepted a pass on the third play of the series and gave the Golden Eagles great field position.
USM took the lead for good on the next play, as Southern Miss Quarterback Abraham found Tight End Ray Ladner from Kiln-Delisle for a 12-yard touchdown pass. This was Hancock Alum Ladner’s first reception of the season and the first touchdown in his college career, which gave the Golden Eagles a lead that was never lost in the game. As Southern Miss converted the two point conversion on a pass to USM Receiver Jaylon Adams, the new score was 21-14 led by the Golden Eagles.
“I was happy for him and thank God he caught it,” said Abraham of Ladner’s touchdown reception. “We had the opportunity and he cashed in.”
The Mean Green attempted to counter, on a six-play scoring drive, which resulted in a two-yard touchdown pass between Fine and Darden, but the extra point was blocked and USM still controlled the lead 21-20 with 3:20 left in the half.
Southern Miss grabbed control of the game, running the ball down North Texas’ throat on a six-play drive that led to an Abraham sneak for a one-yard touchdown run with 44 seconds left in the half. The extra point was good from Stein, making the halftime score 28-20 USM.
USM owned the second half, as the “Big Nasty” defense did not allow the Mean Green to have any points on the scoreboard until late and Southern Miss outscored North Texas 17-7 to secure the homecoming victory.
Abraham had a fantastic night throwing the ball for the Golden Eagles, finishing with 421 yards passing on 29 completions and three touchdowns. It was the second time of Abraham’s career with a passing total eclipsing 400 yards (other was victory over Troy with 463).
Harris scored three touchdowns for USM; two rushing and the other receiving, with a total of 186 yards total offense.
Ladner was not the only Mississippi Gulf Coast product that helped Southern Miss account for the homecoming victory. Tim Jones from Biloxi, Trevor Terry of Long Beach, and Jacques Turner of D’Iberville all shared valuable assets to the win.
Jones caught 7 passes for 66 yards and a few key third-down receptions while Terry; who was team captain for the night, brought in three catches for 28 yards. USM Defensive End Turner tallied two solo tackles and one being for a loss.
Southern Miss plays on the road next week against Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana for 2:30 Conference USA contest.