The University of Southern Mississippi and University of Alabama-Birmingham had not played each other since 2014.
Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, the Blazers picked up where they had left off in the series.
With freshman running back Spencer Brown rushed for 209 yards and UAB’s defense pitching a second-half shutout, the Golden Eagles saw their three-game winning streak snapped in a 30-12 bruising before 19,101 at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
After winning the first nine meetings in a series that started in 2000, USM has lost six of its last seven meetings with the Blazers.
“Tough loss,” USM coach Jay Hopson said. “We didn’t play well. Disappointing loss. Give UAB credit. They did a great job coaching and playing, and they deserved to win.”
The Golden Eagles (5-3, 3-2 Conference USA) scored on the game’s first play, managed two field goals over the next 23-plus minutes and led 12-7 at halftime.
The Golden Eagles wouldn’t score again, as the Blazers (5-3, 3-2) held onto the football behind the bludgeoning rushes of Brown, who picked up 157 yards on 22 carries in the second half.
Brown became the first running back to hit the 200-yard mark against the Golden Eagles since UAB’s Jordan Howard went for 262 yards on Nov. 29, 2014, the final game before the Blazers’ program was disbanded for two years before being resurrected.
“It feels good, but I owe it all to my O-line,” Brown said. “Everything starts with them.
“I just run, run, run, until something pops, and eventually it did.”
USM’s offense, which had put up 219 yards in the first half, finished with 347 yards, and had just 53 second half yards with just less than seven minutes left to play.
Sophomore starting quarterback Keon Howard, who completed 14-of-25 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown, was lifted in the fourth quarter in favor of junior Kwadra Griggs.
Griggs, the former starter before injuring his hand in a Sept. 30 loss to North Texas University, completed 5-of-13 passes for 59 yards. Forty-one yards came on a completion to Tim Jones on the second-to-last play of the game, and Griggs also threw an interception that UAB senior cornerback Darious Williams returned 41 yards for UAB’s final points of the game.
“We struggled in the second half,” Hopson said. “It was evident.
“Anytime you score zero points in the second half and throw a pick-six, it is not a good day at the office, for sure.”
USM senior running back Ito Smith, who was averaging 111.6 yards rushing per game, was limited to a season-low 36 yards on 12 carries. Smith did have three catches for 93 yards, giving him 129 total yards for the game.
The Golden Eagles struck on the first play of the game.
Behind stellar protection, Howard was able to wait until Smith broke wide open, deep behind the UAB coverage. Howard hit Smith in stride, who then trotted the final 10 yards into the end zone to complete the 84-yard scoring play.
Smith, who has scored at least one touchdown in seven consecutive games, has been a part of USM’s two longest plays from scrimmage this season, on by land, one by air. Smith broke a record-long, 89-yard scoring run at the University of Texas-San Antonio on Oct. 7.
Shaunfield had his extra-point attempting blocked, snapping a streak of 87 consecutive successful conversions, but USM led 6-0.
UAB (5-3, 3-2) answered right back.
Junior quarterback A.J. Erdely completed 6-of-7 passes for 66 yards and Brown capped the 79-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Sophomore Nick Vogel did not have his extra point blocked, and the Blazers led 7-6 with 10:51 left in the first quarter.
USM then took control of the game for the next 23-plus minutes, though it only had Shaunfield field goals of 25 yards and 31 yards and a 12-7 lead to show for it.
After missing two of his first six field goals this season, Shaunfield made eight in a row.
Erdley and junior Xavier Ubosi connected on a 60-yard pass down to the 15-yard line. USM eventually forced the Blazers to try a 26-yard field goal on the final play of the half, but UAB kicker Nick Vogel never attempted the kick and holder Jacob Clark was swarmed under for a 12-yard loss.
The second half belonged to UAB.
Erdely scored on a 1-yard to put the Blazers ahead 13-12 four minutes into the third quarter, and he gave the Blazers a 20-12 lead 17 seconds into the fourth quarter on a 25-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Hayden Pittman.
Vogel kicked a 43-yard field goal to bump UAB’s lead to two scores with 6:29 to play and Williams’ interception return delivered the capper with 35 seconds left in the game.
“We’ll just let it hurt tonight and wake up tomorrow, knowing we have a tough opponent (University of Tennessee) this weekend,” senior defensive end Xavier Thigpen said. “We’ll come to practice Monday, ready to roll, and put this one behind us.”
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