Golden Eagles dominate ECU

By By Stan Caldwell / EMG staff writer
Dec. 1, 2002
HATTIESBURG At the end of "The Wizard of Oz," the tin man got his heart.
And when the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles needed it the most, they got their heart, just like the Tin Man.
USM saved its best for last as it dismantled East Carolina University 24-7 in a Conference USA contest before 19,888 at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
The Golden Eagles, who finished their regular-season schedule 7-5 overall and 5-3 in Conference USA, now await word of their postseason fate. There were no bowl representatives on hand Saturday, as the five bowls with C-USA ties awaited the weekend's results. However, most of the speculation has USM going to the Houston Bowl to play a Big 12 team.
Nix will be happy to have one more chance to play, since he finished the game 11 yards short of the 151 he needed to surpass Ben Garry as the Golden Eagles' all-time leading rusher.
As it was, Nix led a crunching ground attack with 139 yards on 32 carries and a touchdown as USM dominated East Carolina (4-7, 4-3) with easily its best game of the season.
Everyone who spoke afterward talked about a throw-down team meeting before Monday's practice, following last week's crushing 31-10 loss to Tulane.
The result was pretty impressive. USM racked up 414 yards of offense, while holding an explosive Pirate attack to just 154 yards.
Bower knew his offense needed a jolt after an up-and-down season, and he gave it one by devising a game plan that alternated quarterbacks Micky D'Angelo and Dustin Almond at unpredictable intervals.
Still, the Eagles caught a break early in the game when a penalty wiped out an ECU touchdown after the Pirates successfully ran a fake field goal after stalling with the initial possession of the game at the USM 34 yard-line.
USM then got much the better of an exchange of punts, as Marvin Young returned a kick 29 yards to the 50 yard-line, setting up the Golden Eagles' first touchdown.
Almond started the series with a 14-yard scramble to the right side, then D'Angelo hit LeRoy Handy for 12 yards. Facing third-and-12 from the ECU 26, D'Angelo found Chris Johnson over the middle, Johnson made a juggling catch for a first-and-goal at the Pirate 7.
On the next play, Almond ran it in for the score and a 7-0 lead with 4:18 to play in the first quarter.
As the Golden Eagles put a stranglehold on the Pirates, who entered the game averaging 30 points a game, the USM offense hit overdrive late in the second quarter, as D'Angelo directed a five-play, 85-yard drive that actually went 92 yards following a holding penalty.
Up against a third-and-10 from the USM 15, D'Angelo put a deep pass down the left sideline that Marvin Young was able to stretch out and haul in by his fingertips. The 44-yard play put USM in ECU territory, and D'Angelo followed with a 16-yard pass to Handy and a 15-yard scoring strike to Johnson.
USM averted disaster in the final minute of the half, when D'Angelo was intercepted by Travis Heath with 38 seconds to play in the half at the Golden Eagle 36. But Greg Brooks took the ball right back, picking off an overthrown ball in the end zone to regain possession for USM.
The Eagles added a 26-yard field goal by Curt Jones midway through the third quarter on a drive that was set up by a 46-yard pass play from D'Angelo to Johnson to the ECU 15.
USM sealed the deal early in the fourth quarter, as Nix took over, running seven of nine plays following a sack and fumble recovery by Ronald Jones at the ECU 32. Nix's 4-yard run, and Jones' kick, made it 24-0
As did all of the Golden Eagles as they enjoy the weekend before learning where they will be bowling. Bowl officials are expected to make invitations public on Monday.

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