Oct. 20, 2011
*Written by the 'Voice of the Golden Eagles' John CoxThere is a lot of the line Saturday night at The Rock when Southern Miss plays host SMU in what has all the ingredients to be one of the more memorable Conference USA games ever played here. Both teams have a lot on the line as they prepare for this contest. Both teams have their sights set on a conference championship, postseason bowl games, national rankings and a spot on the radar with the best teams in the country. Saturday night's game will go a long way to helping both teams accomplish some of their goals.
One of the most memorable Conference USA games ever played at The Rock occurred on Thursday night, Nov. 20, 2003, when the Golden Eagles hosted TCU, who were 7-0 in C-USA and ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press poll. In front of a Hattiesburg crowd of 30,141 and a national ESPN audience, the Horned Frogs outgained the Golden Eagles 429 yards to 278 yards, but Southern Miss prevailed where it mattered, taking a 40-28 victory that clinched at least a share of the conference title for the Golden Eagles.
TCU went 87 yards in 16 plays on its first possession to take a 3-0 advantage, but that would prove to be the Horned Frogs' only lead, as quarterback Dustin Almond quickly completed a 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Daron Lawrence for a 7-3 lead. Another TCU field goal cut the margin to 7-6 before Southern Miss reeled off 21 straight points to take a 31-6 edge late in the third quarter. TCU refused to throw in the towel and used a couple of on-side kicks, two quick drives, and a pair of two-point conversions to cut the lead to 31-28 with 6:55 remaining in the game.
Southern Miss, though, gave itself a little breathing room with Darren McCaleb's second field goal of the game and sealed the victory after defensive back Greg Brooks forced a TCU fumble and linebacker Rod Davis recovered the ball at the Horned Frogs' 11-yard line. Running back Anthony Harris punched the ball into the end zone three plays later to give the Eagles their fifth-straight victory and improve their season mark to 8-3. Davis led the Nasty Bunch defense that night with 20 tackles, while end Terrell Paul and Brooks combined to register three quarterback sacks. The Golden Eagles then nailed down the outright C-USA championship the following week with a 38-21 win at East Carolina. The finished with a perfect 8-0 mark in league play. They would lose to Utah in the Liberty Bowl later that year.
Another memorable C-USA game at The Rock happened Nov. 15, 1997, when the Golden Eagles hosted Houston. Throughout the season, the Golden Eagles had used the motto "Unfinished Business," referring to the previous season's loss to Houston, 56-49 in overtime, which had cost Southern Miss the outright C-USA crown and a bid to the Liberty Bowl. The Golden Eagles erased the bitter aftertaste of that defeat with a commanding 33-0 victory whose outcome was never really in doubt. The Cougars managed just five yards rushing and 147 yards of total offense while not getting a first down until three minutes before halftime. The victory gave the Golden Eagles a 5-0 C-USA mark and guaranteed them at least a share of the league title. The executive director of what was then the AXA Liberty Bowl, Steve Ehrhart, extended an official invitation to Southern Miss during an on-field ceremony after the game. "This year's been good," said Coach Jeff Bower amid the locker room celebration. "It's not over but I couldn't be happier about a bunch of guys that I think are deserving of this opportunity to play an extra game this year. I've never had as much fun coaching."
The Golden Eagles completed their perfect C-USA season the next week with a 42-18 win at Memphis, finishing the regular season 8-3 and then would defeat Pittsburgh 42-18 in the Liberty Bowl.
Another classic came on Oct. 7, 2004, when the Eagles defeated Houston and quarterback Kevin Kolb at home, 35-29, in overtime and in the process secured the 500th victory in school history. Trailing 29-21 with 2:30 left in regulation, the Golden Eagles had the ball at their 43-yard line. The Eagles moved 15 yards on a face mask penalty and then completed a 12-yard pass to wide receiver "Marvelous" Marvin Young, before quarterback Dustin Almond ran for the final 18 yards for a touchdown to make the score 29-27.
Running back Anthony Harris scored on a two-point conversion run to tie the game at 29-29 with 1:12 remaining. Almond had been forced out of the game with a pulled leg muscle that occurred on his touchdown run, so Damion Carter entered the game in his place. In overtime, Carter threw a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Otho Graves, giving the Golden Eagles a 35-29 lead. But McCaleb's extra point try was blocked. The Cougars moved to the 15-yard line and had a first down on their overtime possession, but the Eagles recorded a quarterback sack of Kolb and a tackle for a seven-yard loss on the very next play. The Cougars eventually faced a fourth down and had to go for it, but an incomplete pass gave the win to Southern Miss.
Everybody probably has a favorite Conference USA game that has been played at The Rock, but these are three that I will always remember. But hopefully Saturday night the battle with SMU will find its way into a listing of one of the most memorable C-USA games every played in Hattiesburg. Can't wait for it to get here.
Don't forget to bring your radio to the stadium on Saturday night and listen to all of the action on the Southern Miss IMG Sports Network. Broadcast time is set for 5:30 p.m., with our Golden Eagle Tailgate Show. This week we get the Inside Scoop from Assistant Athletic Director for Equipment Operations Patrick Stewart and shine the spotlight on senior linebacker Tim Green on the Golden Eagle Close-up. We will also relive the 70-14 Conference USA victory over UAB in 2008, one of the Great Moments in Southern Miss football, and visit with former Golden Eagle quarterback Lee Roberts (1995-1998) on Meet an Eagle of the Past. Featured this week on Inside Southern Miss is a new football helmet that uses technology developed in the laboratories of the School of Polymers and high performance materials here on campus and visit with Head Coach Larry Fedora.
Enjoy the game everybody it promises to be a good one.
Southern Miss to the Top!!!