Football Falls to Troy, 37-31
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Southern Miss did just enough to lose it first football game of the season Saturday, dropping a 37-31 decision to Troy before 27,905 at Roberts Stadium.
Thing is, despite three turnovers, a botched punt snap and a failed fake punt, the Golden Eagles still had a last-minute opportunity to pull out the win.
"It's good that we showed fight, but we never should have been in that situation," said Mullens, who threw for 263 yards and a touchdown but was also intercepted twice.
"You can't give a team 17 or 14 points early in the game because it comes back to haunt you. Coach (Jay Hopson) says you get what you deserve, and we deserve every bit of what we got."
Running back Ito Smith topped 100 yards rushing for a third consecutive game, picking up 131 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
Southern Miss (2-1) suffered its first home loss since dropping the 2015 season opener to Mississippi State.
Troy (2-1) snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Golden Eagles, winning in the series for the first time since the teams' first meeting in 1935.
"It felt like everything that could go wrong went wrong, but we certainly gave ourselves the chance to win at the end," Hopson said.
The Golden Eagles opened the scoring when safety Devonta Foster intercepted Troy quarterback
Brandon Silvers and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown.
It turned out to be Southern Miss only lead of the game.
Silvers was not particularly efficient, completing just 10 of 27 passes for 123 yards. But he was efficient, throwing for three touchdowns and directing an offense that did not commit a turnover after his initial gaffe.
On the flipside, Troy scored 27 points (three touchdowns) on possessions immediately after a Golden Eagle miscue, including two interceptions, a fumbled kickoff, a botched punt snap and a fake punt that came up a yard shy.
"Give Troy credit, but as a football coach, you felt like with all the turnovers and miscues, you kind of shot yourself in the foot," Hopson said.
Silvers tied the game on a 34-yard, play-action pass to Deondre Douglas on fourth-and-2 with 8:47 to play in the first quarter, and on the ensuing kickoff, Isaiah Jones fumbled away the return to set up at the Trojans' at Southern Miss' 29-yard line.
Two plays later, Silvers found Emanuel Thompson on a middle screen for a 29-yard touchdown that gave the Trojans a 14-7 lead.
On Southern Miss' ensuing possession, a bad snap on a fourth-down punt attempt resulted in a 17-yard loss that set up Troy at the Golden Eagles' 10-yard line.
The defense bowed up and kept the Trojans out of the end zone, but the first of Ryan Kay's three field goals gave Troy a 17-7 lead.
The Golden Eagles spent the rest of the game trying to catch up.
Parker Shaunfield's 41-yard field goal got Southern Miss back to 17-10, but the first of Mullens' two interceptions led to Silvers' 11-yard scoring pass to Andre Flakes for a 24-10 Troy lead.
But the offense sparked at the end of the first half, as Mullens drove Southern Miss 78 yards in 1:04 to cut the lead to 24-17 at halftime. Smith plowed in on first-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 8 seconds to play and the Golden Eagles out of timeouts.
Smith tied the game on the first play of the second half, bursting up the middle and going 70 yards for a score.
But Mullens was intercepted on USM's next possession, setting up Kay's 42-yard field goal, and when a fake punt try came up a yard shy of the first down, Troy turned that into a two-play touchdown drive, capped by Jordan Chunn's 39-yard run.
"I just felt like we needed something," Hopson said. "I never apologize for playing to win. Sometimes it goes, sometimes it doesn't.
"I thought we had a good call. (We) worked on it a lot this week, and I thought it was there and it was there. We just didn't execute it to the best."
Mullens, who completed 24 of 52 passes for 263 yards, found Allenzae Staggers for a 15-yard touchdown pass near the end of the third quarter to get the Golden Eagles within 34-31.
But Kay added a 43-yard field goal in the final period, and Chunn (176 yards on 36 carries) helped the Trojans grind away at the clock and the Golden Eagles' opportunities.
"Our guys, they fought," Hopson said. "We did a few good things, but it was a tough, hard-fought game. "Give Troy credit. They won the ballgame."