Nov. 5, 2011
East Carolina scored on the second play of the game - a career-long 72-yard pass from quarterback Dominique Davis to Reese Wiggins - and was on the verge of scoring again when Southern Miss snapped into action with the first of four first-half returns for touchdowns.
"Our special teams made some really nice plays and some game-changing plays," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "The defense scored as much as we did on offense, basically. We got the pick and then blocked a punt."
Southern Miss's Jamie Collins scored on a school-record 97-yard interception return after he picked off an errant throw by Davis that bounced off the intended receiver and a defender. His touchdown made the score 7-7 with 9:19 left in the first quarter.
A pair of defensive stands by Southern Miss set up the next two touchdowns off East Carolina punt attempts. First, Tracy Lampley raced 60 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown after fielding a punt at the Golden Eagles' 40. Another stop resulted in a blocked punt by Southern Miss' Reggie Hunt that Emmanuel Johnson scooped up and returned 15 yards for a 21-7 lead.
"They jumped out on us on a quick pass play," Southern Miss defensive end Cordarro Law said. "But Jamie's interception bounced us back and we got the momentum. For the defense to get a turnover and go down and score, it pumped us up."
After Southern Miss scored its only offensive touchdown of the first half on an 8-yard pass from quarterback Austin Davis to running back Jamal Woodyard, the Golden Eagles added a 79-yard interception return by Deron Wilson with 3:27 left in the second quarter to make it 38-14. The 38 first-half points were a season high.
"The two special teams touchdowns and the two interceptions they returned for touchdowns really hurt us," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We felt we could move the ball on them and we did. We had the momentum but the interception really hurt us."
East Carolina outgained Southern Miss 402 yards to 299 and had 24 first downs to 17 for the Golden Eagles. The Pirates also held a 35:45 to 24:14 advantage in time of possession. Those numbers just didn't result in enough points for the Pirates.
Fedora said he was proud of the way his defense played because of the amount of time it spent on the field.
"The defense was hurting in the first half," Fedora said. "You can't play that many snaps and not expect them not to hurt. Our defense had their backs against the wall and we had guys set up and make plays."
Southern Miss (8-1, 4-1 Conference USA), which is off to its best start since 1996, seized control of C-USA's East Division with its seventh straight win, while East Carolina (4-5, 3-2) had its three-game winning streak snapped. The Golden Eagles have dominated the series against the Pirates with wins in 16 of their last 19 visits to East Carolina.
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