Oct. 27, 2011
*Written by the 'Voice of the Golden Eagles' John CoxAs the Golden Eagles head to El Paso, Texas, for Saturday night's Conference USA matchup with the UTEP Miners, we are reminded that although the football series between the two teams amounts to just four games they have all in some unique way been very memorable.
This will be the second time that Southern Miss has ever played in the Sun Bowl Stadium since it was opened in 1963 with its current capacity of 51,500. The Golden Eagles did play in a pair of Sun Bowl postseason games following the 1952 and 1953 seasons but those games were played at old Kidd Field in El Paso, which is now UTEP's track and field stadium that seats 15,000.
The first meeting in history between Southern Miss (which was then known as Mississippi Southern) and UTEP (which was then known as Texas Western) came after the Southerners had finished a magnificent 9-1 regular season in 1953 with a 33-19 Thanksgiving day victory at Chattanooga on Nov. 26. Their only loss during the regular season had been a 27-13 loss at Memphis State. Two days following the victory over Chattanooga, the Sun Bowl formally extended a bid to MSC, and, on Nov. 30, school officials announced that team members had voted to accept the invitation to face the Miners, who would be the host team.
It was the second straight year that Southern played in the Sun Bowl. They had faced the College of the Pacific the year before and lost 26-7.
Despite the Southerners' hopes for a better outcome than in the previous year, Texas Western soundly defeated MSC 37-14 on New Year's Day 1954. The game was effectively over at halftime, when the Miners led 30-7.
The Hattiesburg American attributed the eventual 37-14 loss to the play of Texas Western's star quarterback, Dick Shinaut, who "passed, ran and punted the Miners to the victory. Shinaut dominated the action all afternoon. His passing kept the Southerners off balance and paved the way for devastating sallies through the line by his backfield mates, Clovis Riley and Jesse Whittenton."
Shinaut kicked a 14-yard field goal and passed for two touchdowns and was named the game's most valuable player. Southern scored on a 13-yard pass from quarterback Billy Jarrell to Tommie Wood and a 13-yard run by halfback Fred Smallwood.
The second meeting between the two teams was also in the postseason when the Golden Eagles met UTEP in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 23, 1988. The Miners had been selected over Wake Forest and Kentucky. Southern led 10-7 at halftime before James Henry dazzled the crowd at independence Stadium with a pair of third quarter punt returns for touchdowns to spark his team to a 38-18 victory, earning himself both the Offensive and Defensive Player of the game awards. Henry, who is now in the Independence Bowl Hall of Fame, had returned the two punts 65 yards and 45 yards for touchdowns. Tailback Shelton Gandy contributed 134 yards rushing and had two touchdowns. That Eagle team finished the year10-2 and became the first Southern Miss team to win 10 games in a season since 1952.
The first-ever Conference USA meeting between the two teams was on Nov. 17, 2007, at the Sun Bowl Stadium, where running back Damion Fletcher ran for 211 yards and three touchdowns to lead Southern Miss to a 56-30 victory over the Miners. Fletcher had 34 carries for Southern Miss as the team finished with a season best 363 yards rushing and six touchdowns on the ground overall.
Quarterback Jeremy Young added 205 yards and two touchdowns passing for the Eagles. The Golden Eagles led 14-10 at halftime but broke the game open in the second half with three, third-quarter and three, fourth-quarter touchdowns. Southern Miss piled up 568 yards of total offense in the game.
Southern Miss and UTEP last met in 2008 at The Rock, where the Miners won 40-37 in double overtime. Trailing 27-21 early in the fourth quarter the Golden Eagles got a pair of field goals from Britt Barefoot, the second from 22 yards out as time expired, that forced the game into overtime. Each team scored a touchdown and kicked an extra point in the first overtime, but in the second extra period the Golden Eagles had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Barefoot. UTEP answered with a short touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Vittatoe to Chris Adams to win the game. The loss overshadowed a career-high effort by Damion Fletcher, who had 34 carries for 260 yards, and became the school's all-time leading rusher in the third quarter. The 260-yard effort was also the second highest mark in the program's history.
Another Southern Miss connection to UTEP is with basketball. Long-time Southern Miss basketball coach Lee Floyd graduated from UTEP and was an El Paso native. Floyd coached the Golden Eagles from 1949-50 through the 1953-54 season and then again from 1962-1963 to 1970-71. Following the 1948-49 basketball season, Reed Green became the first full-time athletic director at Southern Miss giving up his duties as football coach. Green, who had coached the basketball team for a number of years along with his football assistants J.D. Stonestreet and Jess Thompson, was looking to build the basketball program and in the first true steps towards making a commitment to the sport, was determined to hire a full-time basketball coach. He would find the man he was looking for in Floyd, who had been coaching less than 200 miles away at Pensacola Naval Air Station. It was a move that would revolutionize the school's basketball program. Floyd became Southern's coach in 1949. Floyd had played football and basketball at UTEP and his senior year saw him elected captain of the basketball squad and he led the Border Conference in scoring. Floyd was also a star performer in swimming and also an outstanding boxer and gymnast. His son, Tim Floyd, is now the head basketball coach at UTEP.
Hope as always to see many of you in El Paso for the game on Saturday night. The game is being televised by the CBS Sports Network and, of course, we will have all the action for you on the Southern Miss IMG Sports Network. Our broadcast time is 5:30 p.m. (central time) with our Golden Eagle Tailgate Show. This week on our pre-game show we will get the Inside Scoop from head athletic trainer Todd McCall and visit with senior quarterback Austin Davis on the Golden Eagle Close-up. We will relive a Great Moment in Southern Miss Football focusing on the 2008 70-14 win over UAB and Brett Favre will talk with us as we "Meet an Eagle of the Past." On Inside Southern Miss, we will talk about the Alumni Association Hall of Fame and, of course, we will have our pre-game talk with Coach Larry Fedora. On our post-game show, Coach Fedora will rejoin us along with some of our Golden Eagle players of the game.
Have a great week and always remember "Southern Miss-To the Top."