The University of North Texas erased a University of Southern Mississippi fourth-quarter lead by scoring the final nine points of the game to pull off a 29-20 Conference USA victory Saturday evening at Apeggio Stadium.
Stephen Brauchle’s 23-yard field goal gave the Golden Eagles their first lead, 23-20, with 9 minutes, 9 seconds, left to play.
But UNT immediately drove 65 yards on six plays, scoring on Willy Ivery’s 11-yard touchdown run with 7:34 to play, to take a 27-23 lead.
USM’s last three possessions ended in a safety and two interceptions by quarterback Keon Howard, who made his second, consecutive start in place of injured starter Nick Mullens and back-up Parker Adamson.
Ito Smith piled up 180 yards total offense and scored twice, and George Payne ran for 50 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
But it wasn’t enough to prevent the Golden Eagles’ fifth loss in six games. USM (5-6, 3-4 C-USA) has one more chance to become bowl eligible and avoid a losing season when its hosts Louisiana Tech on Friday.
The Mean Green (5-6, 3-4) snapped a three-game losing streak with the win.
The Golden Eagles fell behind 20-0 in the second quarter. Trevor Moore kicked field goals of 26 yards and 39 yards, while quarterback Alec Morris threw touchdown passes of 17 yards and 56 yards to Turner Smiley.
Smith, who has scored at least one touchdown in 16 consecutive games, pulled USM within 20-7 on a 1-yard scoring run.
Smith rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries, and caught three passes for 67 yards.
Smith broke off a 69-yard run to set up his own 2-yard touchdown run to pull USM within 20-13 on the first drive of the second half, and Payne powered the Golden Eagles’ next possession, rushing four times for 44 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run evened the score 20-20.
USM took advantage of one of two North Texas fumbles to set up Brauchle’s go-ahead field goal, but the Golden Eagles could not hang on to the lead.
Howard rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries, but struggled throwing the ball, hitting just 10 of 26 passes (38.5 percent) for 135 yards with three interceptions. He also lost a fumble, giving him nine turnovers (five fumbles, four interceptions) in the first two starts of his career.
USM recovered two fumbles and picked off Morris once, the Golden Eagles’ first takeways Oct. 15.
Morris wound up completing 14 of 29 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Ivery rushed for 111 yards and a score on 18 carries, while Smiley grabbed seven passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns.