After starting this season by losing four home games, Southern Miss (2-5, 1-2 Conference USA) earned its first win at home since 2019 with a 24-13 victory against North Alabama.
Despite four turnovers by Southern Miss, the Nasty Bunch allowed only 175 yards, its fewest this the whole season. All of North Alabama’s 13 points came from Southern Miss’s mistakes, of which there were few.
“I told the defense that it’s nice to see the Nasty Bunch back and that’s the best we’ve played all year,” Interim Head Coach Tim Billings said. “They did a great job, they played with enthusiasm and excitement. They played well. They kept us in the game until offensively we finally got rolling in the fourth quarter.”
On offense, Southern Miss had its best rushing game of the season by earning 245 yards on the ground. Freshman running back Frank Gore Jr. led the way for Southern Miss, earning his second career game with over 100 yards rushing. Gore finished with 103 yards in total on 13 carries. RB Darius Maberry also contributed 53 yards. RB Kevin Perkins had a career day as well, rushing all three of Southern Miss’s touchdowns.
“I can’t even explain the feelings, but it’s great,” Perkins said after the game. “The feeling of just going into the locker room with a win and just celebrating with your brothers [is great].”
Southern Miss had a sloppy start to the game, turning the ball over three times in the first quarter. Southern Miss fumbled the opening kickoff after a miscommunication in the return team. Two plays later, North Alabama quarterback Blake Dever threw to wide receiver Andre Little for a 12-yard touchdown. On the following drive, defensive back Kyree Fields intercepted Lowe’s first pass of the game.
Southern Miss’s defense prevented the Lions from scoring again in the first quarter, however. Southern Miss’s offense found success late in the first quarter with big runs from Gore and Maberry. However, the Golden Eagles did not score, as Lowe gave the ball up on a fumble.
Southern Miss prevented the Lions from scoring another touchdown during the turnover and made the Lions settle for a field goal. The Golden Eagles continued to rush the ball successfully. After Perkins converted a fourth and two, he rushed past the goal line to give Southern Miss its first touchdown of the game.
Southern Miss drove the ball all the way to the four-yard line before the end of the first half, but two false start penalties stalled the drive. The Golden Eagles walked away empty-handed after the Lions blocked kicker Briggs Bourgeois’ field goal attempt.
Billings describes what he told the team at halftime when the Golden Eagles were down 10-7.
“I just told them, hey guys, y’all got to decide if you want to win this or not,” Billings said. “We know right now [the reason] we’re behind is all because of us. We’re good enough to win, we should win this game and you just need to go out there and play, and that’s what they did.”
Southern Miss started the third quarter with another turnover. Lowe was hit and forced a pass, which was intercepted by North Alabama’s defensive back Gerrell Green. However, Southern Miss’s defense made another red zone stop, limiting the Lions to another field goal, keeping the score within one possession.
The stop proved to be crucial, as Southern Miss drove down the field on the next drive to take its first lead of the game. After another fourth and short conversion, Perkins ran for an 11-yard touchdown to put Southern Miss up 14-13 early in the fourth quarter. Perkins continued to roll past the Lions on the next drive, earning his third touchdown with a 17-yard rush.
Cornerback Natrone Brooks intercepted Dever to give Southern Miss its first interception since the second game of the season. The turnover set up a 38-yard field goal from Briggs Bourgeois with under two minutes remaining, sealing the Golden Eagles’ victory.
Linebacker Santrell Latham continued to be a defensive force for the Golden Eagles, earning ten tackles, two of which were for losses. Latham described how the defense came together today for its best performance of the season.
“I feel good that we came together today, especially for the defense,” Latham said. “They stood up in moments they haven’t this season and for them to do it today, I’m ready to get back next week.”
The win marks the first win under Billings. Perkins explains how good it feels for the team to earn a win after a season filled with adversity and coaching changes.
“The coaching changes don’t even hurt us. We’re doing it for each other,” Perkins said. “We love each other and it’s just a bond that can’t be broken. We just stick with the plan, man, and keep pushing.”
Southern Miss will travel next week to play conference opponent Western Kentucky on Nov. 14 at 2:30 p.m.