Staggers leads Southern Miss to bowl game victory

Staggers leads Southern Miss to bowl game victory

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WDAM) - Receiver Allenzae Staggers set records for receptions and receiving yards Saturday night as the University of Southern Mississippi outlasted the University of Louisiana-Lafayette 28-21 in the 16th annual R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

Staggers, who was named Southern Miss' Most Valuable Player, caught a career-high 11 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown before the fourth-largest crowd (35,601) in the bowl game's history.

The victory gave USM (7-6) consecutive winning seasons following a low point that saw the Golden Eagles log just four wins over a three-season stretch from 2012-14.

"We just feel blessed, very fortunate, very grateful," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "These guys fought through so much during the season, so I'm just very proud of them."

Staggers, a junior college transfer in his first season as a Golden Eagle, became the only player in the program's history to log two, 200-yard receiving games.

Staggers had a six-catch, school-record, 292-yard effort against Rice University on Oct. 1.

Running back Ito Smith rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns Saturday against the Ragin' Cajuns (6-7), and caught a pass for a third, as the Golden Eagles won a postseason game for the first time since 2011.

Louisiana-Lafayette, which had won three of its final four games to become bowl eligible, struggled to find any offensive consistency against the Golden Eagles.

Two of the Cajuns' three touchdowns came on drives of 29 yards and 19 yards after USM turnovers as Louisiana-Lafayette managed just 95 yards passing and 252 total yards.

"Their pressure (Saturday night), it got to us," said UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth after watching USM collect six sacks among nine tackles for loss. "We just didn't have the answers late in the game."