by Hunter Dawkins

Sometimes you lose tough contests against your own, as the South Alabama (USA) Jaguars came to Hattiesburg and punched the Southern Miss (USM) Golden Eagles with players from their own state earning the win 32-21.  With a limited attendance short of 7500 due to the global pandemic mandate of 25% capacity from Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, the game started in the late evening hours.

Monday afternoon, USM’s fifth year coach Jay Hopson resigned from his duties as the Head Football Coach of the Golden Eagles.  Hopson opened his Southern Miss head coaching career with a 44-35 victory over Kentucky in Lexington, giving Southern Miss its first victory over an SEC team since 2000. Hopson was also an assistant for the Golden Eagles from 2001-03 and again from 2005-07.

“After heartfelt discussion with Jeremy, we have come to a mutual agreement for me to step down as head coach. I am in total agreement with this change in leadership and truly believe it is in the best interest of the players, coaches and this entire program,” said Hopson. “I cannot thank Dr. Bennett and our administration enough for the opportunity that they gave me. I wish Southern Miss nothing but the best and am thankful for all that they have done for me and my family.”

Dressing out 22 on their roster from Mississippi, current USA and former MS Collegiate Coach Steve Campbell beat USM with more than 500 yards total offense and several mistakes from the Golden Eagles.  Campbell, who coached Delta State in Cleveland for three years, a Division II National Championship, and led Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston for 10 years while earning national NJCAA Coach in 2007 after winning the Junior College Championship.

Since being at USA from 2018, Campbell has a 5-19 and has never won a game on the road before Thursday night.  One of the first broadcast college football games, the USA Jaguars struck first after sophomore quarterback Desmond Trotter tossed a 73 yard laser pass to receiver Jalen Tolbert with only 13:57 left in the first quarter and the early score was 6-0 because of a botched extra point.

Due to some early mistakes and penalties, the Golden Eagles could not sustain an ongoing drive and failed to score during the first.  Former Gulf Coast Junior College and current USA Running Back Terrion Avery dove into the end zone off a power block for a quick score.  At the end of the quarter, USA had the lead they never lost 13-0.

As Biloxi native and Southern Miss Senior Receiver Tim Jones attempted to save the Golden Eagles throughout the game, he got lengthy early receptions but was double covered later.  Jones finished with 6 receptions for 139 yards.

Despite being behind by only three at halftime 13-10, Southern Miss came out dreary again and went three and out give the ball to the Jaguars.  After twelve plays, Trotter found Tolbert on a 31-yard touchdown pass and an extra point at 10:23 in the third quarter, which led to the score 20-10.

Following a few traded field goals, the final quarter began on the wrong end for USM, who drove into the red zone after five plays to leave with nothing when the short field goal was blocked.  USA used former Gulf Coast Junior College National Champion Quarterback Chase Lovetich on the seventh play from scrimmage to find Receiver Kawaan Baker for a 52 yard touchdown strike.  The extra point failed again, leaving the score 29-13 with 10:20 left in the game.

Southern Miss put on a clinic on offense the next series, chipping away on twelve plays until backup tight end Naricuss Driver dove in from the 1 yard to score.  With a two point conversion, the game looked to be turning the tide with 5:42 left and the new score being 29-21.

As Campbell and the Jaguars had controlled the time of possession all night, USA’s offensive line behind three Coast student-athletes (Jacob Shoemaker, Connor Estes, Wyatt Green) helped pound the run for 163 yards and field goal with 1:46 left in the game to build the lead 32-21 and secure the victory.

“Tonight was a great win for us and it was a great way to start the season,” said Coach Campbell of USA, grabbing his first road win as the head coach of the Jaguars.  “After all that these young men have been through, we were able to go on the road and get a road win.”

For the Jaguars the first time they opened their season with a victory since 2016, when they defeated Mississippi State 21-20 in Starkville.  Additionally, the first time since the program’s inception in 2009 that the Jags did not have to punt once in a contest.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast was represented well on defense with USA Defensive Tackle G’Nrs Johnson contributing 3 tackles and a sack along with USM Defensive Back Tyler Barnes grabbing 2 tackles and an interception.

Southern Miss has named offensive coordinator Scotty Walden as their interim coach and will host Louisiana Tech on September 19 for the next game.  South Alabama will host Tulane University in their first home game at their new Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile.