SAN ANTONIO, TX (WDAM) - Running back Ito Smith capped off a three-touchdown scoring binge with the longest touchdown run in the University of Southern Mississippi's football history Saturday night and the Golden Eagles held on for a 31-29 Conference USA over the University of Texas-San Antonio at the Alamodome.
Smith, who became the second-leading rusher in USM annals, burst up the middle and outraced the Roadrunners to cap a 21-point USM rally that erased a 13-7 UTSA halftime lead.
The Golden Eagles (3-2, 1-1 C-USA) scored on three, consecutive snaps late in a 3-minute, 27-second span over the end of the third quarter/start of the fourth quarter.
UTSA (3-1, 0-1), who had come in unbeaten and sporting the conference' top defensive unit, scored with under a minute to play, but a potential, game-tying two-point conversion pass was incomplete.
The on-side kick attempt went out of bounds and USM just needed a couple snaps to run out the clock.
Keon Howard, who started in place of injured starting quarterback Kwadra Griggs (hand), completed 15 of 20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
After an end zone interception and 61-yard return by Curtis Mikell, Howard capped a 39-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Korey Robertson that lifted USM into a 14-13 lead.
After the Golden Eagles forced a three-and-out, and got the ball at the UTSA 48. On the first play, USM pulled off a flea flicker, with Howard finding Quez Watkins for a 48-yard touchdown and a 21-13 lead.
USM forced another UTSA punt, and got the ball back at its own 11-yard line. On first down, Smith found a big hole up the middle and simply outran defenders for an 89-yard touchdown run and a 28-13 lead.
Smith's scoring run was the longest TD run in program history, topping 87-yard scoring runs by Bo Dickinson (vs. Dayton, 1956) and Bubba Phillips (vs. Northwestern (La.) State, 1947).
After being limited to 38 yards in the first half, Smith finished with 178 yards on 17 carries, averaging 10.8 yards a carry.
UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm, who threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns, got the Roadrunners back within 28-20 on a 28-yard pass to Marquez McNair, the nephew of former NFL great Steve McNair.
Howard was stripped from behind and UTSA recovered at USM's 32-yard line. But the Golden Eagles forced the Roadrunners to settle for a 44-yard field goal by Jared Sackett that cut the lead to 28-23 with 7:33 left to play.
But USM then went 69 yards on 12 plays, taking 5:37 off the clock, as Parker Shaunfield pushed the lead back to eight points with just 1:56 to play.
But Sturm sped UTSA 53 yards, capping the drive with a 24-yard pass to McNairn with 48 seconds to play and getting the Roadrunners within a two-point conversion to tie the game.
But Sturm's pass was low, falling incomplete and USM had its second road win of the season.
UTSA had come in allowing just 207 yards total offense a game. USM rolled up 458 yards total offense, including 246 yards rushing.
The Roadrunners had 27 first downs to USM's 18, had 76 offensive snaps to USM's 51 and had the ball for more than 12 minutes longer than the Golden Eagles.
But USM averaged 9 yards a play and made the three-touchdown scoring burst stand up in the end.
Watkins led USM receivers with five catches for 78 yards, while Robertson had two coaches for 45b yards. Tight end Jay-Shawn Washington had two catches for 54 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown grab to cap USM's opening possession of the game.
Jalen Stewart led UTSA with five catches for 101 yards, including a 21-yard TD grab in the first half that gave the Roadrunners a 10-7 lead.
Greg Campbell led UTSA with 10 catches for 108 yards.
In 2016, UTSA running back Jalen Rhodes punished USM for 165 yards and three touchdowns. Saturday night, Rhodes finished with 28 yards on 14 carries as the Roadrunners netted just 102 yards rushing.
USM will return to M.M. Roberts Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday, when the Golden Eagles host University of Texas-El Paso for homecoming.