Southern Miss drops overtime contest to UAB

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Squaring off against the top team in the Conference USA standings, the Southern Miss football team (4-5, 3-3 C-USA) dropped a 26-23 overtime contest to the University of Alabama-Birmingham (9-1, 7-0 C-USA) on Saturday night.

The Southern Miss defense stopped the Blazers early on in the game, forcing UAB to punt on its first two offensive possessions. On the Golden Eagles’ second possession, freshman quarterback Tate Whatley connected with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Quez Watkins on a 47-yard pass and then again on a 19-yard touchdown pass to give Southern Miss a 7-0 lead over UAB.

On the following drive for UAB, redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Johnston was intercepted by redshirt senior defensive back Picasso Nelson. The interception led to a 12-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal from redshirt senior Parker Shaunfield in the second quarter.

Later in the second quarter, Southern Miss took advantage of another UAB miscue, as Watkins returned a missed 54-yard field goal attempt all the way to the UAB 45-yard line. The subsequent possession resulted in another field goal for Southern Miss, giving the Golden Eagles a 13-0 lead over UAB.

The Blazers got on the board for the first time late in the half. Johnston drove the UAB offense all the way to the Southern Miss one-yard line, where he ran into the end zone for a touchdown run with 40 seconds left in the half to cut Southern Miss’ lead to 13-7 at halftime.

In the third quarter, UAB started to find momentum on offense, while Southern Miss struggled to move the ball on its offensive drives. UAB added two field goals and another touchdown to go ahead over Southern Miss 20-13 by the end of the quarter.

Still, Southern Miss was not out of the contest. In the fourth quarter, junior defensive back Ky’el Hemby intercepted Johnston, allowing Southern Miss to take over at the 50-yard line. The Golden Eagles tied the game 11 plays later on a two-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman running back Steven Anderson, making the score 20-20 with 7:09 remaining in the game.

After the touchdown, the two teams experienced a string of stalled drives, with each team punting three times over that span. Southern Miss punted the ball back to UAB with 1:02 remaining in the contest. Four plays later, junior Ty Williams returned a Johnston interception 42 yards to the UAB 36-yard line to set Southern Miss up with great field position with 16 seconds left to play. However, Whatley was intercepted in the end zone two plays later, ensuring an overtime period.

In overtime, the Golden Eagles received the ball first and scored on a 37-yard field goal from Shaunfield. The Blazers ended the game three plays later, however, as running back Spencer Brown scored on a 17-yard touchdown run to give UAB the win and the C-USA West division title.

Overall, the Southern Miss offense gained just 165 total yards on the night. In his second start, Whatley completed 16-of-38 passes for 160 yards to go along with one touchdown and one interception. Watkins was the leading receiver on the night, catching seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt freshman running back Darius Maberry made his Southern Miss debut in the contest and had nine carries for 22 yards, though the team as a whole gained only five net rushing yards in the game.

In addition to grabbing three interceptions, the Southern Miss defense held UAB to 207 yards passing and 97 yards rushing. The Blazers entered the game averaging 253.7 rushing yards and 194 passing yards per game. UAB also converted seven-of-17 third-down attempts in the contest.

Southern Miss returns to the field next Saturday for its final home contest of the season against Louisiana Tech. Kickoff at M.M. Roberts Stadium is set for 2:30 p.m.