Aug. 31, 2011
*Written by the 'Voice of the Golden Eagles' John CoxOver the course of the proud and storied history of Southern Miss football, the Golden Eagles have opened their football season 17 times at Roberts Stadium since the current structure opened for play during the 1976 season and have been victorious 16 times. The only defeat was a 14-0 loss to Pittsburgh in the 1993 season opener.
There have been many captivating moments in season openers at The Rock, and with the 2011 season opener coming up at Roberts Stadium against Louisiana Tech, Sept. 3, it is always a lot of fun to look back at some of those games that standout as unforgettable moments.
The first season opener to be played at Roberts Stadium occurred on Sept. 5, 1981, when the Golden Eagles opened the campaign against what was then Southwestern Louisiana. Quarterback Reggie Collier's 14-yard touchdown run gave Southern Miss a 7-0 edge, and tailback Sammy Winder's 2-yard touchdown run upped the lead to 14-0. The Ragin' Cajuns cut the lead to 14-7, but Winder added another two-yard run to put USM up 21-7 at halftime. With the Nasty Bunch limiting USL to 174 yards, the Golden Eagles rolled to an easy 33-7 win, accumulating 401-yards of total offense. That Golden Eagle team went on to rank as high as No. 8 in the country (UPI), finishing 9-2-1 and advancing to the Tangerine Bowl.
The Golden Eagles opened the 1985 season at home on Sept. 7, against the previous year's Division I-AA runner-up, Louisiana Tech. Spurred by a defense that allowed only six first downs and 12 yards rushing, the Eagles recorded a 28-0 win. On their first possession of the season, the Golden Eagles marched 65 yards and scored on a one-yard plunge by tailback Vincent Alexander, who rolled up 125 yards on the day. The Eagles added a touchdown in each quarter thereafter, amassing 343 yards rushing. Quarterback Robert Ducksworth returned from the previous season's injury to rush for 109 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown run. The Golden Eagles opened the 1992 campaign against long time foe Memphis at Roberts Stadium on Sept. 4. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns gave the Tigers a 21-20 lead, and the Eagles had the ball with just under three minutes to left. Quarterback Tommy Waters drove his squad to the Tiger 36-yards line, and coach Jeff Bower sent freshman place-kicker Johnny Lomoro into the game to try the first field goal of his career. The strong legged kicker drilled the ball 52 yards through the uprights, giving Southern Miss a 23-21 win.
The 1995 season opener at the Rock was on Aug. 31 against the Northern Illinois Huskies. To boost attendance and increase interest, the USM athletic administration enlisted supporters to sell blocks of tickets to local businesses and organizations in an effort called Sellout '95. The contest was moved from Saturday to Thursday evening to set it apart from all the other college games that would occur that weekend. Before a capacity crowd of 33,092, then the third largest crowd ever at Roberts Stadium, the Golden Eagles dominated the game in every way imaginable---through the air, on the ground, on defense, and with special teams. The star of the game was wide receiver Fred Brock, who started his senior season by amassing 204 all-purpose yards and turning in three big plays over a five minute stretch to seal the Golden Eagle victory. Late in the first half, with Southern Miss already leading 24-7, Brock raced around the right side and blocked a punt, knocking the ball out of the end zone for a safety. After the free kick, Brock started a 54-yard Eagle march with a 15-yard catch and finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown grab. Finally, Brock returned the second half kick-off 95-yards for a touchdown, and the Golden Eagle went on to win 45-13.
On Labor Day, Mon., Sept. 6, the Golden Eagles opened the 1999 season against the defending Conference USA champions, Tulane, at The Rock. Southern Miss coaches, players and fans had been pointing to the rematch since the Green Wave had defeated the Golden Eagles the previous year. With Roberts Stadium nearly full and a national television audience watching, the Golden Eagles whipped the Green Wave 48-14. The Golden Eagles' surprise starter at quarterback was sophomore Jeff Kelly, who had beaten out junior college transfer Cable Davis in the final few days of the preseason. In his first career start, Kelly completed 13 of 19 passes for 248 yards and four touchdowns to wide receivers Sherrod Gideon, Todd Pinkston and Leroy Handy and running back Derrick Nix. The Golden Eagle defense was superb, holding Tulane to just 15 yards rushing and 269 total yards.
The 2001 season began in the rain on Sept. 1 with a 17-9 win over Oklahoma State at The Rock. Quarterback Jeff Kelly completed 22 of 36 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown, while tailback Dwayne Woods rushed 25 times for 70 yards and another score. Wide receiver Kenny Johnson caught seven passes for 92 yards and wide receiver LeRoy Handy had six catches for 82-yards. Oklahoma State could manage only three field goals against the Golden Eagle defense.
Larry Fedora coached his first game for Southern Miss when the Golden Eagles opened the 2008 season at The Rock against Louisiana-Lafayette and recorded a 51-21 win. In his collegiate debut, quarterback Austin Davis completed 14-of-21 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 50 yards and scored two touchdowns. Fellow freshman DeAndre Brown grabbed four passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, while running back Damion Fletcher rushed for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Golden Eagles rushed for 427 yards in the game and rolled up 633 yards of total offense in the victory.
Memorable plays, memorable moments that all in their unique way have etched their way into the history of Southern Miss football. What does this Saturday's matchup against Louisiana Tech game hold in store for us? We will find out beginning at 9 o'clock that night, but you can bet something will happen that years from now we will all be talking about.