Sept. 24, 2011
Austin Davis rolled right, was surprised to have a defensive end hot on his heels, turned and threw back across the field, a pass to Tracy Lampley he just hoped would get some positive yards.
It did that, and much more Saturday night as Lampley turned the third-and-23 play from his own 41 yard line into a back-breaking 41-yard gain that set up an insurance field goal in Southern Mississippi's 30-24 victory against Virginia.
"That may have been the dagger," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said after the Golden Eagles (3-1) won for the first time in five tries on the road against a team from a BCS conference.
"I think it kind of took the steam out of them," Fedora said.
Davis helped with that, too, throwing for 313 yards and three touchdowns in a crisp performance as the Golden Eagles, of Conference USA, won their second straight against Virginia. They also won in 2009 in Hattiesburg, Miss., rallying from a 27-10 halftime deficit to win 37-34.
Davis did not throw an interception, and repeatedly came up with key throws to convert third-and-long situations. The Golden Eagles finished 10-for-21 on third down, and two of the biggest came in the drive that led to Danny Hrapmann's 27-yard field goal with 1:31 remaining.
He hit Kelvin Bolden for 13 yards on third-and-9 from his 41, and then Lampley for the big gainer from the same spot after a personal foul negated a big gain and moved the ball back.
The play, which also went for a big gain in the first half, was put in this week, Davis said, because the Golden Eagles knew they would be rolling out a lot. Even then, he said, when he threw around the lineman in his face and hit Lampley, he never dreamed a first down would result.
"That was the game," he said. "Great play call. It doesn't get any better than that."
Virginia (2-2), which had closed to within a field goal on David Watford's 1-yard TD pass to Jeremiah Mathis and his 2-point conversion pass to Kris Burd with 5:18 left, got another chance, but after Watford's 15-yard scramble gave them a first down, they gave the ball up on downs.
Linebacker Steve Greer was still shaking his head about the third-down conversion.
"We were yelling 'Watch the screen,'" he said. "It was tough, especially on third-and-23."
Just like when the teams met in Hattiesburg, Miss., in 2009, and the Golden Eagles rallied from a 27-10 halftime deficit to win, this one was a heartbreaker for the Cavaliers.
Playing from behind most of the game, they seemed poised to make a dramatic rally when Watford drove them 76 yards for the score with 5:18 to play. He hit Matt Snyder for 13 yards on a third-and-8 in the drive, and the touchdown pass to Mathis came on third-and-1.
On the 2-point conversion, he rolled right, was chased, had to buy time and then found Burd just over the goal line. Burd had a career-high nine receptions for 88 yards.
But then, with what was left of the crowd exhorting the Cavaliers to make a stop, Davis made all the key plays, and the Golden Eagles' defense held on after Virginia drove to midfield.
Davis finished 27-for-41 with touchdowns of 32 and 3 yards to Bolden and a 20-yarder to Ryan Balentine. Bolden was wide open each time, and Balentine caught a short pass over the middle and sprinted right, outrunning and dodging several defenders before diving into the corner of the end zone.
"Lamp can make you miss in a phone booth, and Balentine, he just has a knack," Fedora said.
The Golden Eagles also intercepted Michael Rocco three times, and while the turnovers led to only one field goal for the visitors, they kept Virginia's defense on the field.
So did the Golden Eagles, and at the most unlikely of times.
On fourth-and-15 from their 8 in the second quarter, trailing 13-7, Hrapmann, the punter, rolled right in the end zone as if he was going to do a rugby kick, saw green space and took off. He gained 31 yards and a first down, keeping alive a 14-play, 87-yard drive that featured two third-down conversions and ended with the pass that Balentine took the final 20 yards for a touchdown.
An exchange of punts found the Cavaliers starting at their own 1, and coach Mike London sent Watford in at quarterback. Three plays netted 2 yards, and Jimmy Howell's punt set the Golden Eagles up at the Virginia 35. A 23-yard connection from Davis to Lampley highlighted the 8-play drive, and Davis found Bolden with no one near him on third-and-goal from the 3 for the TD.
The Cavaliers scored on consecutive drives to go ahead 13-7. Rocco scored the first touchdown on a 6-yard keeper, and after the defense held, he led the team on a 69-yard drive in six plays. Perry Jones had a 20-yard run in the drive, a 15-yard personal foul helped too, and redshirt freshman Kevin Parks scored from the 9, running over defenders near the goal line.
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