Nov. 24, 2007
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) -- Southern Miss wasn't able to defend its Conference USA East Division title this season. But the Golden Eagles were able to keep one streak in tact.
The victory assured Southern Miss (7-5) of its 14th straight winning season, and also put the Golden Eagles in a bowl game for the ninth time in the past 10 years.
Ninety minutes after the game ended, the Papajohns.com Bowl extended the Golden Eagles an invitation. USM will play a yet-to-be-named school from the Big East in the bowl game on Dec. 22 at Legion Field in Birmingham. The game will kickoff at noon and be televised by ESPN2.
Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students.
Call the Southern Miss ticket office at (800) 844-8425 or go to southernmiss.com for more ticket information.
After the game, USM coach Jeff Bower had mixed emotions.
"We are never satisfied with seven wins, and we wanted to be playing in the conference championship game again," Bower said. "But a winning season is always a goal for our team. I'm glad these seniors got to go out with a special win like this, they deserve it."
Only four programs have longer winning season streaks than Southern Miss - Florida State (31), Michigan (23), Florida (20) and Virginia Tech (15).
The loss prevented Arkansas State (5-7) from a break-even season. The Indians were attempting to win six games for the third straight year, something they haven't done in 20 years.
"You have to give Southern Mississippi credit, they played better than we did," said Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts, whose team had beaten two Conference USA teams this season.
"We've had a tough season, but our kids hung in there to the very end."
After going almost the entire first half scoreless, the Eagles took a 7-3 lead at halftime thanks to a 1-yard scoring run by Fletcher with just over a minute to play in the second quarter.
Fletcher, a finalist for the Cellular South Conerly Trophy that goes to Mississippi's top collegiate player and will be announced Tuesday, finished the regular season with more than 1,300 yards rushing for the second straight season.
"I'm just glad I can do my part to help the team win," Fletcher said. "We didn't want to be the team that didn't keep the streak going."
The Golden Eagles extended the lead to 10-3 on Estes' 21-yard field goal six minutes into the second half. Estes also kicked field goals of 29 and 37 yards.
Arkansas State tied the game on a 3-yard scoring run by Brandon Tompkins with 2:54 left in third quarter.
Estes then sealed the win in the final period with his last two field goals.
The Indians drove to the Southern Miss 23 as the game wound down but Eagles linebacker Gerald McRath made a tackle on a fourth-and-1 play to stop the threat.
It was the first regular-season meeting between the teams since 1980. The teams did, though, play in the 2005 New Orleans Bowl that Southern Miss won 31-19.
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