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With bowl bid in hand, USM seniors playing for pride

By By Richard Dark/The Meridian Star
HATTIESBURG Down, but not out.
While the above is highly regarded as a clich in the sports world, there probably isn't a phrase that sums up the current state of affairs for Conference USA's once-proud kings in the Southern Miss football team this week.
USM (7-3, 4-2 C-USA) will have to put the nightmare of last week's 27-24 collapse at the hands of the Cincinnati Bearcats behind them after blowing a 24-7 lead in the final frame.
Instead, the Eagles now have to turn their attention to the East Carolina Pirates (6-4, 4-2 C-USA) in their final game of the regular season. The Friday kickoff at M.M. Roberts Stadium is set for 12:30 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net.
That depression must be transformed to mental well-being if the Golden Eagles are to avoid their first two-game losing streak of the year and limp into next month's GMAC Mobile, Alabama Bowl.
East Carolina is also looking for redemption after dropping a 42-24 loss to West Virginia last week. As far as postseason aspirations go, there won't be anything to play for, as both teams accepted bowl bids Tuesday with ECU taking a trip to Houston for the galleryfurniture.com bowl.
But the game will be the final home contest for 17 Golden Eagle seniors.
The Pirates will have to face a tough Golden Eagle defense which is allowing just 16.8 points per game this season but has given up more than 30 points in the last three contests.
They will do so after losing three starting offensive lineman for the season against the Mountaineers.
USM also has given up only 100.7 yards per game rushing this year, but head coach Steve Logan feels the similarity between the USM and ECU defenses will be an advantage for the Pirates.
Logan still sees a dangerous Southern Miss team, despite the fact that the Eagles are banged up and losers of two out of three.
On the injury front, where the problems continue to mount, receiver Shawn Mills who leads the team with 51 catches for 650 yards, is doubtful to play this week after injuring his ankle and knee against the Bearcats.
Roy Magee, who got hurt in the UAB game is doubtful as well, but Bower said lineman Buck Miciotto may be able to help out in a limited capacity.
Offensively, Dawayne Woods, who had 114 yards on 25 carries last week, now has 10 touchdowns on the season. He leads all rushers with 616 yards on 140 carries.
Chad Williams heads up the tackle chart with 103 total stops. Leo Barnes leads in interceptions, with five for 123 yards, and pass deflections with 13. Cedric Scott is the sack and tackles for loss leader with 12 and 19 respectively.
At the heart of USM's defensive worries is ECU quarterback David Garrard. The huge, and extremely athletic Pirate field general has 2,277 passing yards and 327 rushing yards on the season. He has 23 touchdowns on the year with five on the ground and 18 through the air.
Leonard Henry leads the Pirates' rushing attack with 619 yards on 109 carries. Keith Stokes claims a team-high 29 receptions, 442 yards, while Harris leads in receiving yardage on 22 catches.
Bower said another point of contention will be in the special teams department where Pirate Keith Stokes averages 20 yards on kickoffs and 16 on punts. Stokes has returned one punt for a touchdown this season.
Richard Dark is a sports writer for the Meridian Star. E-mail him at rdark@meridianstar.com.

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