USM wins Battle by the Bay
TO THE VICTORS n Southern Mississippi defensive end Cedric Scott (96) carries the Mobile Alabama Bowl Trophy off the stage after Southern Mississippi beat TCU 28-21 Wednesday. AP photo
By Richard Dark/The Meridian Star
Dec. 21, 2000
MOBILE Only 33 seconds? No problem.
Southern Miss quarterback Jeff Kelly stepped up to the challenge with the game on the line, hurling a sweet 29-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Kenneth Johnson as the clocked ticked down to give the Golden Eagles a dramatic 28-21 come-from-behind win over the 13th-ranked Texas Christian Horned Frogs in the Mobile Alabama Bowl.
With the win USM (8-4) was able to snap a two-game losing streak and halt a TCU (10-2) juggernaut in front of a frigid crowd of 40,600 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
The Eagles may indeed have saved their best for last, or it may have just been due to getting healthy bodies back in the lineup. Either way, USM is a bowl winner for the second straight year, but as was the case all season for the scrappy bunch, the victory didn't come without a huge fight.
After rallying to take the 14-7 lead in the third quarter on a nine-yard TD pass to Leroy Handy, the Horned Frogs came storming back on the back of their much-heralded running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who scored on highlight reel runs of seven and 33 yards in the latter stages of the fourth quarter to take a 21-14 lead and grab control of the ESPN2 televised showdown.
To make matters worse for the Eagles, the placekicking game was out to lunch all night long, as kicker Brant Hanna gave USM nothing to show for its drives, missing from 32, 37 and 49, while having another 27 yarder blocked.
Just when it appeared for all the world that the Southern Miss Golden Eagles were again going to roll over and die for the opposing team, Handy again continued the big play theme of the night with a spectacular 56-yard catch and run to tie the game with 7:24 to go. For the night, Handy, who returned after a month away with a shoulder blade injury, collected the bowl Offensive MVP Award by grabbing five passes for 84 yards.
But if Bower was nervous, Kelly was anything but, juking and jiving for key yardage in late-game crucial situations, and exhibiting plenty of poise with his passing.
A little of that happened in the first half, when USM defensive back Leo Barnes spied on an in-the-grasp TCU quarterback Casey Printers, stepping up into the seam and picking off a pass to race 50 yards to the house, tying the game at seven with 6:08 left in the third.
The TCU view of things wasn't as jolly. Tomlinson, who was by all accounts held below his usual output, was understandably a bit terse.
Despite being held in check and coming out on the losing end, Tomlinson was awarded the game MVP. "It feels pretty hollow to get the individual trophy but lose the ballgame."
It wasn't all through the air for USM however. Surprisingly, the Golden Eagle running game outran TCU's 158-150. Senior Kelby Nance finished up his Eagle career in grand style, rumbling for 104 yards on 16 carries. It was first 100 yard game.
One of the forces that gave Tomlinson and qb Casey Printers fits was All-American Cedric Scott. The outgoing defensive end that hauled in a sackload of honors said he laid it all on the line.
You always remember you're first college game and you're last game," he said. "All of the seniors got together and talked and we wanted to go out winners. So we came out and played hard and did just what we had to do."
Richard Dark is a sports writer for The Meridian Star. Email him at email@example.com.