HATTIESBURG – Southern Miss’ bowl hopes remain alive with a thrilling 21-20 win over rival Louisiana Tech Saturday at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
The Golden Eagles trailed the Bulldogs by 6 with more than 13 minutes left in the game, but Southern Miss put together a 14-play, 85-yard drive that ate 7:31 minutes of game time. Redshirt freshman Steven Anderson punched it from the 6-yard line to tie the game, then sophomore kicker Briggs Bourgeois successfully added the extra point to give the home team the lead for good.
Southern Miss’ defense allowed Louisiana Tech’s offense to gain 29 yards on the ensuing drive before forcing a punt near midfield. Then, Southern Miss ran out the final 3:54 minutes to seal the win.
“It was a hard fought win, and we’d knew it would be,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “Louisiana Tech has our utmost respect, and we’d knew it would be a tough game. Our kids kept battling, and I couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of young men.”
Quarterbacks Jack Abraham and Tate Whatley interchanged multiple times on the final drive, both pushing the offense forward for positive gains. Abraham, a redshirt sophomore, helped move the ball to midfield, with passes to Watkins and junior Jordan Mitchell for gains of 6, 10 and 10. The first completion of 10 yards to Watkins was a big third-and-4 play, too.
But, Whatley came in on a crucial fourth-and-1 play with the ball at the 50-yard line. The true freshman handed off to Anderson, and although the handoff was shaky, Anderson gained 5 yards for the first down. On the next play, Whatley completed a 28-yard pass to redshirt sophomore Quez Watkins to put the ball at the Louisiana Tech 17-yard line.
“Both those two guys are gritty kids, they’re both great teammates and they support each other,” Hopson said of the two quarterbacks.
A couple of plays later, Abraham came in on a third-and-4 from the 11-yard line, and he completed a pass to Anderson to the 7-yard line. Anderson’s touchdown run came two plays later from the 6-yard line.
“We’re just kind of working the situation, but that’s just kind of the way it is,” Hopson said when asked about Whatley playing in the red zone throughout the game. “Tate is a guy who can do some things. There will always be a little strategy but there’s not really a rhyme or reason.”
Anderson received the ball nearly every time Southern Miss needed short yardage. On third-and-goal from the 1, Anderson punched it into the end zone on Southern Miss’ opening possession of the game. That gave the Eagles a quick 7-0 lead.
“I just try to give the team everything I’ve got,” Anderson said. “I was in a couple of times where we had third-and-short and short yardage, so I just tried to make sure to get that for my team. Just do what I can to help the team out.”
Again, Whatley saw playing time when Southern Miss was in the red zone on that opening drive.
Hopson knew Abraham would play on Tuesday of this week, but he also knew both quarterbacks would see playing time, he said after the game. By playing Saturday, his fourth game of the season, Whatley can’t receive a redshirt this season, due to the new four-game rule. Abraham will be a junior next season while Whatley will be a sophomore.
The Golden Eagles travel to UTEP next week, as Southern Miss will try to become bowl eligible for the fourth straight season.