Sept. 25, 2010
RUSTON, La. - Three fourth-quarter turnovers doused Louisiana Tech's hopes of a come-from-behind victory as Southern Mississippi held on to defeat the Bulldogs 13-12 before 22,344 rain-soaked fans at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday night.
Tech (1-3) used a 19-yard touchdown pass from Tarik Hakmi to Richie Casey with 11:07 to play in the final quarter and a safety after a blocked punt by Rufus Porter with 10:01 to play to close a 10-point deficit down to 13-12.
However, a fumble by Ahmad Paige inside the Golden Eagles 40-yard line with less than nine minutes to play and a Hakmi interception on a throw into double coverage with less than three minutes to play sealed Tech's fate as the Bulldogs fell for the third straight time.
"It was a hard fought game, and I am really proud of our team," said Tech head coach Sonny Dykes. "We played really hard but we just did not make enough plays to win down the stretch. We've got to play better on offense because we never got into any sort of rhythm tonight. The defense played extremely well but we gave up too many third downs. We need to be able to run the ball better and play more consistently on offense."
After the two teams played to a 3-3 tie in a first half that saw nine punts, Southern Miss took the opening kickoff and drove 60 yards on six plays and took the lead on a 23-yard strike from Austin Davis to Kelvin Bolden. Danny Hrapmann's extra point with 12:59 to play in the third quarter gave the Golden Eagles a 10-3 lead.
Offensively, Tech ran eight plays in the third quarter for negative five yards while USM (3-1) controlled the clock running 26 plays for 131 yards and holding onto the football for almost 12 minutes. USM's most impressive drive of the night took over eight minutes off the clock as Hrapmann's 37-yard field goal capped an 18-play, 8:10 drive and gave the Eagles a 13-3 lead with 3:00 to play.
"We haven't been a very good second half football team this season, but I knew our guys would continue to battle and make plays down the stretch. We just didn't have enough tonight."
Down 10 heading into the fourth quarter, Tech mounted a seven-play, 84-yard drive in heavy rainfall highlighted by a 36-yard pass play to Lyle Fitte who broke a couple of tackles down near the line of scrimmage and raced inside Southern Miss territory. After Hakmi recorded a first down and a fourth-down and 1-play, he found Casey for his first career touchdown reception.
After a three and out by the Eagles on the ensuing possession forced a punt, Porter came free and blocked the punt into the USM endzone. The red-shirt freshman had an opportunity to fall on the ball in the back of the endzone but it squirted away as USM batted out of the back of the endzone for a safety. USM led 13-12.
After receiving the free kick, Tech drove to the USM 40-yard line but on a second-and-three play, Paige caught a swing pass but fumbled as he was hit by Deddrick Jones as the Eagles recovered on their own 32-yard line.
"You go down one point with excellent field position and then we turned the ball over," said Dykes. "That is extremely discouraging. Our turnovers have come at incredibly inopportune times this season."
Tech got one final shot after the Bulldogs defense forced a punt with less than four minutes to play. After three straight plays netted 40 yards, Hakmi launched an ill-advised pass into coverage as Deron Wilson came away with the interception.
Hakmi, who came into the game for starter Colby Cameron after the first two possessions of the contest, ended the night completing 22-of-35 passes for 262 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Ten different Bulldogs recorded at least one reception led by Phillip Livas (5-47), Carey Fortson (3-66) and Paige (3-41).
USM ran out the final 2:31 of the game clock for the win.
"We got a win on the road," said USM head coach Larry Fedora. "We put ourselves in bad situations. I'm proud of our guys for overcoming adversity."
USM outgained Tech 425-309 and held a significant advantage in time of possession at 38:25 to 21:35.
Tech travels to Honolulu next weekend to face Hawaii in its Western Athletic Conference opener.