HATTIESBURG, MS - "This football team has been a special blessing to me," said Southern Miss head Coach Jay Hopson following the Golden Eagles 39-24 win over Louisiana Tech on Friday. "A lot of people on the outside don't understand all the battles and adversities this team went through. This team never quit. I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a football team in my life."
"I just think that this season really showed a lot about ourselves and just life," said Southern Miss junior defensive back Picasso Nelson Jr. who led the Golden Eagles with nine tackles and two interceptions. "Because in life you have a lot of ups and downs but if you keep fighting, great things happen."
Friday night was a testament to that ideology.
After losing three straight and with their season on the line, the Golden Eagles put together possibly their most complete performance of the year in a 39-24 win over Louisiana Tech, improving to 6-6 and becoming bowl eligible.
"We wanted to go out there and get a [win] for the seniors," said Southern Miss junior running back who finished with 127 yards rushing on 24 carries. "We didn't want to end the season on a [loss]. We wanted to make more memories, go to a bowl game, have more fun."
"I told them, 'I don't care if we go up to Jackson, Mississippi where I'm from and play a bowl game there and go to the mall,'" said Southern Miss senior wide receiver D.J. Thompson who had a career high 12 receptions, 135 yards and two touchdowns. "I don't care. I just want to go to a bowl game my senior year."
Certainly, the Southern Miss seniors wish their careers at The Rock would have never ended. But it comes easier when you finish in victory formation.
"This is awesome," said Southern Miss senior offensive lineman Wil Freeman who came to the post-game podium still wearing his pads and jersey. "I want to live the moment just a little bit longer."
"When you got a great group of teammates that you really, really love and enjoy to be around," said Southern Miss senior quarterback Nick Mullens who returned from a two-week hiatus to go 29-33 for 342 yards and three touchdowns. "Then you get to go finish like that with the guys you love and you've been through so much with. And the fans tonight, I know we might not have fulfilled expectations to the fullest but we appreciate you guys sticking with us. We appreciate you guys for real. Southern Miss is a big family. People say it but it really is."