Southern Miss beats Troy in OT, 30-27

Published 7:22 am Monday, December 22, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — It only seemed fitting that Larry Fedora’s first bowl game as Southern Mississippi’s head coach would feature a stirring comeback and dramatic overtime finish.

The Golden Eagles overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit with the help of a fourth-down touchdown pass, and Michael McGee blocked a field goal in overtime for a 30-27 victory over Troy in the New Orleans Bowl on Sunday night.

The victory was the fifth straight for Southern Miss (7-6), which needed the first four to qualify for a bowl and the last one to extend the school’s streak of consecutive winning seasons to 15.

“I just can’t say how proud I am of this whole football team,” Fedora said, reflecting on when his squad was mired in a five-game losing skid that dropped Southern Miss to 2-6.

“They were probably the only ones out there that really believed we would get it done. They never gave up, they believed in the coaches. They grew up and they became a heck of a football team.”

Troy held Southern Miss to Britt Barefoot’s 39-yard field goal on the first possession of OT, but that wound up being enough for the Golden Eagles to win their third New Orleans Bowl in three appearances.

McGee knifed in from the left end, diving as he smothered Sam Glusman’s 28-yard kick to clinch the win.

“I was trying my best to get there and by the time I got 3 yards away from the ball, I didn’t see nobody trying to block down on me, so I just dove and gave it my all,” McGee said.

The Trojans (8-5), winners of the Sun Belt Conference, led 27-17 after Jerrel Jernigan’s 6-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.

Southern Miss began its comeback when Austin Davis rolled out on fourth-and-2 and lofted a 35-yard touchdown to tight end Jonathan Massey with 7:20 left in regulation.

“The day I took the job I said we were going to attack … and we’ve had that philosophy all year,” Fedora said. “That’s a play we’ve worked and executed numerous times in practice and that’s not the first time we’ve hit that play in a game so I don’t think it was that big of a risk to be honest.”

Barefoot tied it with his 46-yard field goal with 2:50 to go.

A lousy start preceded Southern Miss’ fantastic finish. When the game began, the Golden Eagles were penalized the loss of a timeout because they wore all-gold uniforms, defying orders that the they wear white jerseys as the designated visiting team. They committed a false start while lining up for their first offensive play. Two plays later, Troy took a 7-0 lead on a defensive touchdown as Jorrick Calvin batted down Davis’ lateral, then scooped it up for 17-yard fumble return.

Later in the first quarter, Southern Miss lost leading receiver DeAndre Brown, who broke his left leg on an awkward landing in the end zone after his attempt at a leaping catch was batten down in the first quarter. Only one series earlier, Brown had set a single-season school record for receptions with 67 on a 9-yard catch.

Without his top target, Davis completed 20 of 34 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, including a 64-yard scoring pass to New Orleans native Gerald Baptiste on a flea flicker in the first quarter.

Southern Miss career rushing leader Damion Fletcher carried 14 times for 78 yards and a touchdown on an 8-yard end run. Fletcher also caught three passes for 23 yards, while Baptiste finished with five catches for 88 yards.

Troy’s Levi Brown was 26-of-43 for 255 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kennard Burton and Troy never trailed until overtime. After this game, Troy had to be happy to get out of Louisiana, where one of its most crushing losses came in mid-November.

“We played LSU earlier this year and blew a 28-point lead. After that, we knew nothing’s in hand until the game’s over,” Brown said. “I expected it to be a close game and I was thrilled to be up 10 in the fourth, but we couldn’t finish it.”

Jernigan had nine catches for 65 yards, breaking a 40-year-old Troy record for single-season receptions. He finished with 77 catches on the year, passing Danny Grant, who caught 72 passes in 1968.