Southern Miss rallies late for OT win at LA Tech, 34-27

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RUSTON – Southern Miss rallied from 11 points down with less than four minutes to play in regulation and then got two defensive stops, including the game-clinching one in the second overtime, as the Golden Eagles downed Louisiana Tech 34-27 before 17,815 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday night.

J’Mar Smith’s two-yard TD run with 4:08 to play in the game gave the Bulldogs (3-4, 1-2 C-USA) a 27-16 lead and capped an impressive five-play, 96-yard drive that was highlighted by an 82-yard reception by Marlon Watts. The score gave the Tech faithful what turned out to be a false sense of security.

“I thought that Marlon Watts made a great play over here on the sideline when we were backed up and got the ball all the way down there and then we ended up running it in,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “You take an 11-point lead and we just weren’t able to hold on to it.

“Defensively, I thought we did some really good things, but we weren’t very good on third down. We couldn’t get off the field. There were a number of third and medium situations, and we just couldn’t get off the field. It’s just unfortunate.”

Following the Smith touchdown, Southern Miss (5-2, 3-1 C-USA) drove down to the Tech 32 before Parker Shaunfield connected on a 49-yard field goal with 1:23 to play to cut the deficit to 27-19. The Bulldogs were an onside kick away from the win.

However, Tech’s special teams were unable to recover the onside kick and following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against USM, the Golden Eagles started on their own 37 yard line with just one timeout to play. Three plays later, Keon Howard tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Korey Robertson with 31 seconds to play in regulation and then found Jay’Shawn Washington for the two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.

“As hard as these players work and as supportive of a fan base as we have to come out here and to play at home,” said Holtz. “And I’m sure there’s a message in all this, when you look at some of the way that we have lost games with South Carolina and this one and UAB. But all I know is you better have an incredible amount of resolve.”

In the first overtime, Smith had a wide open Kam McKnight running a seam route on second down, but his pass was thrown flat allowing Tarvarius Moore to intercept it, ending the Bulldog possession.

Needing only a field goal to win the game, Southern Miss decided to put the ball in the air on second down. Tech freshman cornerback Amik Robertson made a game-saving play by ripping the pass away from the USM receiver for his second interception of the year.

“We got talent in that locker room, we’ve got some willing players that we have got to do a better job as coaches, we have got to put them in better chances to give them a chance to be successful, and we have got to have some resolve,” said Holtz. “And the thing that happens sometimes when you lose, you get frustrated and but we got to keep this thing together and we just got to continue to battle.”

It took Southern Miss only one play to take the lead in the second overtime period. Howard hit Robertson for a 25-yard score in the southeast corner of the endzone for the touchdown, giving the Golden Eagles their first lead of the game.

The Bulldogs got a first down on two plays to put the ball on the USM 13 yard line. However, a three-yard loss on a run play on first down and then an 11-yard loss on a sack on second down pushed the football back to the USM 27-yard line. Smith then underthrew Teddy Veal around the USM 10-yard line on third down and had the ball knocked away from him on a fourth down pass, ending the game.

“It’s right up there,” said Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson when asked about the wild ending. “I’ve been in a few wild ones, but that might have taken the cake. It’s right up there at the top. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the players, coaches, we just kept plugging, kept digging, and found a way when it didn’t look like there was a way. And again, it’s just a great team win and just amazing.”

Southern Miss dominated the time of possession in the game, holding the ball for 40:52 compared to Tech’s 19:08. Playing most of the game without running back Ito Smith who was injured in the first half, USM turned to the air, completing 32-of-53 passes for 301 yards and two interceptions.

USM recorded 30 first downs to Tech’s 15.

Smith had a tough night at the office, completing only 11 of 28 passes for 194 yards and one interception. Marlon Watts recorded a career-high 121 yards receiving on five receptions while Teddy Veal added three catches for 56 yards.

Boston Scott registered his third career 100-yard rushing game with 11 carries for 106 yards while Jarred Craft added 10 carries for 45 yards.

Dae’Von Washington registered a career-high 14 tackles while Robertson and Jordan Baldwin each registered 10 tackles.

POSTGAME NOTES

  • Louisiana Tech captains were Deldrick Canty, Secdrick Cooper, Jarred Craft, Teddy Veal and Jonathan Barnes.
  • Announced attendance:  17,845
  • With the 34-27 overtime loss, LA Tech is now 3-4 on the season and 1-2 in C-USA play.
  • LA Tech now trails in the all-time series with Southern Miss, 34-15.  The Golden Eagles have won three straight in the series.
  • LA Tech is now 5-4 all-time in Red Out games.  The Bulldogs had won three straight in such games coming into Saturday.
  • It was the first overtime game for LA Tech since Sept. 19, 2015 at Kansas State.  The Bulldogs have lost four straight OT games, dating back to 2011.
  • The Bulldogs won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half.
  • There was a 50-minute lightning delay.  It has rained five of the last seven times LA Tech and Southern Miss have faced each other on the gridiron.

OFFENSE

  • After coming for just six total yards on the ground in the last two games versus Southern Miss, LA Tech rushed for 161 yards.
  • Offensive lineman Ethan Reed and running back Jarred Craft have started 21 straight games.
  • J’Mar Smith finished the game 11-of-28 passing for 194 yards.  He also recorded his first rushing touchdown of the season.
  • Marlon Watts registered a career-tying five receptions for a career-high 121 receiving yards.  His previous career high was 72 yards at Southern Miss in 2014.
  • Teddy Veal had three grabs for 56 yards, including a 40-yard reception in the first quarter.  He now has three receptions this season of 40+ yards.
  • Boston Scott led the way on the ground, posting a game-high 106 rushing yards on 11 carries.  It was his first 100+ rushing game this season and the third of his career.
  • Jarred Craft had 45 rushing yards, giving him over 2,000 for his career.  He became the 14th running back in program history to accomplish the feat.
  • Bulldogs tallied 86 yards on the ground on the opening drive, including a 45-yard rush by Boston Scott which was a season long.
  • Boston Scott took a handoff straight up the middle for 15 yards and the touchdown, giving the Bulldogs a 10-3 advantage with 14:18 left in the second quarter.
  • J’Mar Smith kept the ball on a zone read and scored easily from two yards out to give the Bulldogs a 27-16 lead with 4:08 to play in the fourth quarter.

DEFENSE

  • Defensive end Jaylon Ferguson has now made 21 straight starts.
  • Dae’Von Washington posted a career-high and game-high 14 tackles.  It was the most tackles in a single game by a Bulldog this season (previous best was nine).
  • Amik Robertson registered a career-high 10 tackles, two that went for a loss, as well as picking off his second pass of the season.
  • Jordan Baldwin, who got the start in place of Secdrick Cooper, recorded a career-high 10 tackles.  His previous career high was three in the last game at UAB.
  • Darryl Lewis intercepted the pass and took it 63 yards for the pick-six, giving the Bulldogs a 17-10 edge with 2:32 to go in the second quarter.  It was the first interception returned for a touchdown since L’Jarius Sneed did it on Dec. 3, 2016 at WKU in the C-USA Championship game.
  • It was the defense’s seventh interception this season.
  • With Southern Miss one-yard away from a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Jordan Bradford forced a fumble that was recovered by Secdrick Cooper

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Jonathan Barnes was 2-of-3 on field goals and 3-of-3 on extra point attempts.  For the season he is now 14-of-19 on FG attempts and 19-of-22 on extra point tries.
  • On the opening drive of the game, Jonathan Barnes connected on a 23-yard field goal, giving the Bulldogs an early 3-0 lead with 9:58 left in the first quarter.
  • Jonathan Barnes hit on a 45-yard field goal, giving the Bulldogs a 20-16 lead with 11:38 remaining in the fourth quarter.
  • Jonathan Barnes came up just a couple of yards short on a 64-yard field goal try at the end of the fourth quarter.
  • Brady Farlow had five punts for a total of 197 yards (average of 39.4).
  • Davan Dyer had one punt that went for 23 yards and was downed inside the 20.

QUOTES

Louisiana Tech Head Coach Skip Holtz

Q. Tough one tonight. I think you look over these stats, the things that you have worked on, you came out tackled better in the first half, you played disciplined free football, came out with the first half with no penalties. But here in the end, you have a lead with 4:07 left to go in the game and then the Golden Eagles just come back.
SKIP HOLTZ: I thought that Marlon Watts made a great play over here on the sideline when we were backed up and got the ball all the way down there and then we ended up running it in. We took an a 11-point lead and we just weren’t able to hold on to it.

Defensively, I thought we did some really good things, but we weren’t very good on third down. We couldn’t get off the field. There were a number of third and medium situations where we just couldn’t get off the field. It’s just unfortunate. As hard as these players work and as supportive of a fan base as we have to come out here and drop a tough at home. I’m sure there’s a message in all this, when you look at some of the ways that we have lost games with South Carolina and this one and UAB. But all I know is that you’d better have an incredible amount of resolve. We’ve got talent in that locker room and we’ve got some willing players. We have got to do a better job as coaches, to put them in better chances to give them a chance to be successful, and we have got to have some resolve. And the thing that happens sometimes when you lose, you get frustrated, but we’ve got to keep this thing together and we’ll just go continue to battle.

Q. On the discrepancy of number of plays ran (Southern Miss ran 98 opposed to Tech’s 63)
SKIP HOLTZ: They had 30 first downs to our 15, and that was a big difference. They were really good on third down and we were really bad. We did not throw the ball very well tonight. We did not throw and catch it very well tonight. So we’ve got to look at what we’re doing, and we’ve got to look at who we’re doing it with, and we’ve got to find a way to move the ball and put more points on the board for sure.

Q. You talk about that, that was it the throw in motion? I know a lot of passes were short hopped tonight and that’s just something that we haven’t seen.
SKIP HOLTZ: No, one of J’mar’s biggest faults is when he starts over thinking everything. He starts getting mechanical and over thinking and I don’t know what — I can’t speak for him right now. I haven’t had an opportunity to really sit down and visit with him. But I know he was as frustrated with it as anybody, but he certainly didn’t play with the same confidence, the same stinger that he has played with at other points in times during the year.

I thought that the offensive line came out and I thought they did a really nice job running the ball. I thought the running backs did a nice job of protecting the ball. We just certainly weren’t able to throw it very well tonight.

Q. You’re still — the resolve what you talk to your team about, you look North Texas loss today, you still got to play them there’s still things to play for, it’s not in your hands, the western division is not out of reach.
SKIP HOLTZ: We can sit down and we have all got goals and what we want to accomplish and you’ve got your goals, but the first goal on the board is to find a way to get bowl eligible and we’d better start worrying about that. That doesn’t happen automatically. That doesn’t happen just because you’ve gone to three in a row. And so as a football team, we’ve got to start sitting down and say okay, let’s get the bowl eligibility as quick as we can, let’s get to the sixth win. Once you get to that, then you’ve got to look at it and say, okay, do we have any shot at the conference. There’s still a lot of football to play, there’s still a lot of things that could happen. I’ve said before that the winner of this league could easily have two losses, but we can’t just keep losing these close games and they’re not going to have three. The winner is certainly not going to have three. All we can do right now is kind of lick our wounds a little bit over this. We can kind of let the pain and the hurt sink in a little bit, and then we can come back tomorrow and we can find a way to start getting ready to race and find a way to go win one game. We can’t win a conference championship this week, we can only win one game. All we can do is find a way to go from 3-4 to 4-4, and that’s what we’ve got to find a way to do. We’ve got to find a way to win one game.

Louisiana Tech Wide Receiver Marlon Watts

Q. Is it more anger or disappointment in the way this one turned out?
MARLON WATTS: No anger. Disappointment, we played our balls off, we played a hard game. And in the interview earlier this week I said that if we lost it would be because of the actions that we did on the field. Even in an interview earlier I said that this game is going to be built on the hype and this is what people would want to go to see and it was everything I said it was going to be.

Q. Where do you guys feel like you came up short tonight? Specifically, things where you feel like you guys came up short?
MARLON WATTS: Like I said, execution. If we lose, it’s because we lost the game. A lot of our execution wasn’t there, on some plays that was critical in the game, and that’s where our downfall came from.

Q. You guys had a 11-point lead with four minutes to go, did you feel like you really had it in the bag at that point?
MARLON WATTS: Yes, we thought it was not over because they’re a good football team and they’re going to play hard and they’re not going to give up and they’re going to compete. But you have to think that momentum was on our side and if we would have just got the onside, we could have maybe took a knee and ended the game right there.

Q. What do you tell J’mar, kind of a rough finish for him there in overtime with the interception and then the sack and fumble?
MARLON WATTS: Just keep his head up. He’s young, he’s going to be a fantastic quarterback for Louisiana Tech. So just keeping him motivated, confident, that’s all he really needs. Just don’t keep your head down, it’s a football game and this is a live game, it as emotional game.

Q. How stressful was it for you guys offensively to be standing on the sideline for as long as you guys were in the second half? You guys were up, I mean the whole entire game, but the offense wasn’t able to get out there on the field and try to string together some plays because they were out there running 18-play drives and 14-play drives and keeping you guys off the field. How stressful and aggravating was that?
MARLON WATTS: It wasn’t very stressful or aggravating because if we do what we have to do in that game, we wrap it up and come out with a W. You got to commend Southern Miss, they’re a hell of a football team, they have some great athletes, great coaches, and they play real hard.

Q. Moving forward I guess, how do you not let this one kind of drag the team down? You guys had a couple of close losses this year. This one, you know, at home. How do you prevent that from kind of snowballing into more losses?
MARLON WATTS: Honestly, I don’t think this brings the team down. I honestly think this brings the team closer. Because when your back is against the wall, you really count on your teammates, you let them know how much they mean to you, and that’s when you roll your sleeves up and go play football.

Louisiana Tech Linebacker Dae’Von Washington

Q. Just describe what you’re feeling tonight at this moment.
DAE’VON WASHINGTON: First off, we’ve got to give Southern Miss their props, they played a hell of a game, we played a hell of a game, it just didn’t turn out the way we wanted. It hurt, but we’re just looking forward to moving forward and staying together, staying strong.

Q. You guys have to be proud of the defense, you guys were on the field for a lot of the game. Was it kind of tough in the last part of the game to try to keep them out of the end zone? Was it – kind of tired out there at the end of regulation?
DAE’VON WASHINGTON: We practiced, we prepare for situations like this, so I won’t say it’s tough. They just made a hell of a play like an elite player made a good play the time before that, so things happen, it’s football.

Q. What did you see from J’mar? Did you tell him anything or what did you see from your teammates?
DAE’VON WASHINGTON: We just all trying to stay together and keep each other lifted and blow air into each other, don’t let anyone get down because everybody played their heart out. He’s young, he’s a great quarterback, he has a great future coming ahead.

Q. You guys had the lead the whole game and they score 11 points in 48 seconds there. I think they tied it up at 27, with less than a minute to go in the game. Talk about how the defense was able to do what it was doing to Southern Miss’s offense just what happened there and how were they able to force this thing to offer time?
DAE’VON WASHINGTON: They picked up on some tendencies and got some good plays in. Got to give them credit.

Q. Talk about, how do you feel like the defense played?
DAE’VON WASHINGTON: I think that all around we played a great game, they just made some good plays at the end. I hate that it happened like that, but got to give them credit.

Q. Same thing I asked earlier, how do you not let this one snowball into something worse than what it is tonight?
DAE’VON WASHINGTON: Like I said earlier, like Marlon said, we’ve got to keep each other up, keep each other together. We’re a family here. So as long as we blow air into each other, keep each other uplifted, and prepare for the next opponent like we prepared for this one, we’ll be good.

Q. How bad did this team want this win tonight?
DAE’VON WASHINGTON: Man, this is something that we have wanted for a while. I don’t think we have beat them since I’ve been here, so we prepared like this was our Super Bowl. We prepare every game like it’s our Super Bowl, but this one just meant an extra lot. So it’s an extra sting, hurts right now.

Southern Miss Head Coach Jay Hopson

Q. Have you been part of a wilder game than that one?
JAY HOPSON: It’s right up there. I’ve been in a few wild ones, but that might have taken the cake. It’s right up there at the top. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the players, coaches, we just kept plugging, kept digging, and found a way when it didn’t look like there was a way. And again, it’s just a great team win and just amazing.

Q. No timeouts, down by 11, less than a minute and a half to go. You scored 11 in 51 seconds on the clock.
JAY HOPSON: Just a tremendous job.

Q. Everything had to go perfect?
JAY HOPSON: It did. But guys kept plugging, they kept digging, they keep the fighting and found a way. We had our opportunities and we got down there, we — again, we had some miscues that got us into that spot, but the thing about it, we didn’t quit, we fought through it and found a way to win at the end.

Q. After Keon throws that interception I saw you talking to him. What did you have to say?
JAY HOPSON: I wasn’t real happy because that was a run. So at the end of the day, he and I talked about it at halftime. And that’s part of the growing phase when you’re a young quarterback, but he redeemed himself, he came back and threw a nice touchdown to Korey and, again, I’m proud of him because he battled through that adversity and came back with a big touchdown throw to wind up winning the ball game. So, again, a learning experience, but also a great experience for him watching him battle back from that adversity.

Q. Talk about redemption, T-Moore gets hit with a flag —
JAY HOPSON: A 15. And then comes back with a big pick. I’ll tell you one thing, he played tremendous in overtime. Just big plays, I thought he had big hits. He finished regulation with some nice hits, then had the big interception in overtime. I thought T had a good game the whole night. I thought our back-end secondary played really well tonight. I was very pleased with those guys.

Q. Obviously going to be concerned about Keon. How is he?
JAY HOPSON: He’s got cramps, but I think he’s fine. So he’s got some cramps, but he’ll be fine. It’s one of those deals where Tez came in and picked up the load. So we’ll keep the plugging. And I think that was good for our football team too, because a lot of people think we’ve got a good football team with some other guys other than Ito that can make plays. I kind of hope this — because that second half I thought we moved the ball extremely well. We probably didn’t score as much as we wanted to, but we did great job moving the ball. And I think what happens is we’ve got some guys here that can do stuff with the football. So again, I think that tonight more so than any night we kind of proved that, because we didn’t have it in the second half.

Q. Just the roller coaster, Tez fumbles on the one, you’re going in —
JAY HOPSON: Yeah, it was a roller coaster. They get a 98-yard pass, there’s a hair away from being an interception PBU, they go down the sideline, go all the way and score a touchdown. It was almost like in 30 seconds the game had changed completely. But again, you’ve just got to credit our players, our coaches, those guys just kept fighting and they didn’t give in and never gave up and they came out with a nice win.

Q. Your defense seemed to give y’all a chance.
JAY HOPSON: They played hard. I thought that back seven played well. I thought we covered extremely well tonight. I’ll look at it on film and make sure, but just from the naked eye I really thought that Curtis and Cornell, Tarvarius, those guys, I think Joe’s had a lot of weeks together that’s been very good. I think they played really Kelsey I thought they played, that back end played extremely well. So again, I’ll look at it on film and make sure of that, but just from watching it tonight I was very pleased. Those guys really mesh and they’re dwelling well together. So again I thought the Nasty Bunch played well, I thought we did some good things on offense and overall it was a good team win and you need some of these wins and wins like these are special.

Q. Two part question. Parker, the decision to —
JAY HOPSON: Parker, yeah, yeah, well, I just felt like you’ve got to have two scores and the worst thing you do is keep draining that clock out. You might as well go ahead and kick it, because if you don’t get the ball back it’s irrelevant anyway. You get the ball back and you give yourself a chance to tie it. Because if you don’t get it on that fourth and four, the ball game’s over. So that’s the way I’ve always kind of thought about those situations, you don’t ever keep going for the seven I always just said kick it and let’s live to fight again.

Q. And hitting four of five field goals tonight.
JAY HOPSON: I thought they were clutch and that kick right before the one that put us down to eight, that was real clutch. But he had a couple other nice ones on the other end that were clutch. Parker, again, special teams-wise, he was just a big advantage tonight.

Q. (No microphone.)
JAY HOPSON: Two big plays. Korey’s a big strong receiver that can go up and get it. He proved that tonight. The catch, taking us down, taking us down — we didn’t get any points on that — but took us down there to the goal line and then he makes the one in the second overtime that’s the game winner. That was just a tremendous catch with he and Keon. So proud of these guys, just proud of these guys, man, they kept fighting.

Q. So Keon changed the play there?
JAY HOPSON: Yeah, Keon, he had a little bit of a change right there, so we’ll adjust that — we talked about that after the game — we can smile about it now, but we said no mas on that, we’re not doing that any more. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him though to go through that, because you know how tough that is, you feel like the weight of the world’s on and then all of a sudden you respond and you come back and you throw a touchdown to win the ball game, to me just says volumes about his character and the fight and determination that that young man has. So I’m just proud for him. I really am.

Q. Was there any debate on the two-point conversion as far as what play to call there?
JAY HOPSON: No, no. We had that picked out before the game.

Q. To win a game like this, to overcome turnovers, adversity, the momentum, the offense —
JAY HOPSON: Next week’s a different week and Jason and Patrick are tired of hearing the coach talk, but it’s reality. Next week’s a different week. And this is a great win, we’re going to enjoy this one tonight, I can promise you, we’re going to — the kids can enjoy it tomorrow, the coaches better not enjoy it tomorrow because we’ve got to go to work. But Monday it’s all forgot and we got to get ready because we know we got a tough football team coming to town. So again it will be fun. The bus ride back, we’ll enjoy it, I can promise you that.

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