Despite a strong defensive performance, Southern Miss (2-6, 1-3 Conference USA) fell short of completing a fourth-quarter comeback against Western Kentucky (3-6, 2-3 Conference USA) and lost 10-7.
While Southern Miss started with a 10-0 deficit in the first half, the Nasty Bunch limited the Hilltoppers to 100 yards and prevented any scores in the second half, giving the offense an opportunity to come back.
“Starting with Rice and last week, I saw some of the Nasty Bunch defense back. I saw that attitude, that confidence, that physicality and I really saw it tonight,” Interim Head Coach Tim Billings said. “I mean, that’s the old Nasty Bunch that everyone is used to at Southern Miss. I was really proud of them today.”
Running back Kevin Perkins gave the Golden Eagles a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Southern Miss could not score on a crucial drive. On a fourth and seven with less than two minutes remaining, quarterback Trey Lowe III’s pass to tight end Cole Cavallo fell incomplete, ending the team’s chances of victory.
Southern Miss struggled offensively throughout the whole game. The Golden Eagles gained 221 total yards, but had much more trouble with its passing yards. In his second start at Southern Miss, Lowe finished with six completions on fourteen attempts for 67 yards and no touchdowns. Lowe was also sacked six times.
Billings says a late minute adjustment in the quarterback situation this week affected the game plan for the passing game. Southern Miss has not thrown a passing touchdown since playing against Liberty on Oct. 24.
“We’re just really inconsistent as far as throwing the football and it was a crazy thing again. Jack [Abraham] practiced as a starting quarterback until Thursday,” Billings said. “All of a sudden, we kind of had to revamp things so that had an effect on the game plan a lot, but still no excuses. We’ve got to score some points.”
Still, Southern Miss’s running backs continued to be at the top of their game. Frank Gore finished with 66 yards on 14 attempts and Perkins finished with 71 yards on eight attempts. Perkins has also scored the Golden Eagles’ last four touchdowns.
Southern Miss started the game slow on defense as Western Kentucky scored on its first possession with a 91-yard drive. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome scrambled five yards to put the Hilltoppers up 7-0.
Western Kentucky got the ball back quickly after a Southern Miss three and out. The Hilltoppers orchestrated an 18-play drive that took nine minutes off of the clock. Despite converting two fourth downs on the drive, the Hilltoppers settled for a field goal after Southern Miss prevented a touchdown.
The Golden Eagles found themselves down 10-0 in the first half for the second straight week. However, Southern Miss’s defense held the Hilltoppers to 67 yards in the second quarter and prevented the team from extending its lead.
Southern Miss also put up its first promising drive in the second quarter, but the Hilltoppers forced a field goal attempt, which kicker Briggs Bourgeois missed.
Southern Miss struggled even more on offense in the third quarter. The Golden Eagles only gained a total of 16 yards and Lowe was sacked twice.
After a series of problems throughout the game, Southern Miss staged its comeback in the fourth quarter. The offense gained momentum on a 15-yard rush by Perkins and an extra 15 yards due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. A few plays later, Perkins ran into the endzone on a six-yard rush to put the Golden Eagles within one possession of winning.
Southern Miss’s defense kept the game alive after defensive back Malik Shorts stopped Western Kentucky on a fourth and one close to the red zone. However, the offense could not produce on its final two drives.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t muster up anything in the last two drives to give us an opportunity to either tie the game or go ahead,” Billings said.
The referees ended the game with 41 seconds left, citing that the two teams became too heated with each other. Southern Miss had no timeouts and Western Kentucky would have had to kneel to end the game.
“I think they made a good decision,” Billings said. “With all the tempers flaring, both sides played so hard and physical that was probably a good decision.”
Southern Miss will return to action at The Rock next Saturday against the University of Texas at San Antonio.