Senior Day turned out to be a pretty pleasant afternoon for the University of Southern Mississippi football team and its 23 seniors Saturday at MM. Roberts Stadium.
Senior running back Ito Smith rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns and senior defensive back Kelsey Douglas became the first Golden Eagle since 1967 to return two interceptions in a game for touchdowns as Southern Miss rolled throttled the University of North Carolina-Charlotte 66-21.
“Offensively and defensively, we put together a pretty good game,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “From start to finish, probably our best game of the season.
It was the most points scored by the Golden Eagles since a 70-14 win over the University of Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 1, 2008. Southern Miss’ 584 yards total offense Saturday were a season high.
The Golden Eagles’363 rushing yards were the most against a Football Bowl Subdivision a 370-yard performance against Rice since Oct. 1, 2011.
“We ran into a pretty good team,” Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said. “Southern Miss played really well. They’re a good football team and we knew it coming in.”
Southern Miss’ defense limited Charlotte to 238 yards total offense, including just 96 yards passing, as 20,189 on-lookers watched.
Charlotte junior Hassan Klugh completed just 9-of-25 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. He threw two interceptions, both to Douglas, who returned the first one 52 yards for Southern Miss’ first touchdown of the game in the first quarter and then took the second one 48 yards for a score in the second quarter.
“I was just trying to end my last game at The Rock on a good note, with a bang,” Douglas said. “It’s been a fun five years and that definitely was a great way to play my last game.”
The picks were the first of the season for Douglas and the first “pick sixes” of his career. He became the first Golden Eagle to score on two interception returns in a game since Larry Ussery took a pair back against Louisiana Tech University in 1967.
“He finished it right at The Rock,” Hopson said. “What better script could you have as a defensive back with two interceptions for touchdowns … He gave us two big plays that got us going.”
The Golden Eagles (7-4, 5-2 C-USA) won their second consecutive game to break even in six home games at Roberts Stadium. Southern Miss owns a 4-1 road record and will wrap up the regular season at Marshall University at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Charlotte (1-9, 1-6) dropped its third consecutive game and lost for the first time at Roberts Stadium.
Junior quarterback Kwarda Griggs completed 20-of-27 passes (74.1 percent) for 221 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown pass to junior Korey Robertson. The duo, former high school teammates in Greenwood, also clicked on a two-point conversion pass.
Robertson caught a game-high six passes for 91 yards, his 24th consecutive game with at least one catch. The touchdown catch was his 10th of the season as Robertson became just the fifth Golden Eagle in program history to grab at least 10 touchdown passes in a season.
Smith, who did not play in the fourth quarter, had touchdown runs of 1 yard, 3 yards and 80 yards, his first, three-touchdown game of the season. The trio of scores gave him 41 rushing touchdowns in his career. He trails only career leader Damion Fletcher’s 44 career rushing touchdowns.
Smith’s 80-yard run was his third 80-yard-plus score of the season, joining an 89-yard run against the University of Texas-San Antonio and an 84-yard reception against UAB on the game’s first offensive play.
The 153-yard performance was his fourth game of the season with at least 150 yards rushing and was his 22nd career 100-yard rushing game.
“Ito Smith is about as good a back as there is in this league,” Lambert said. “He’s a heckuva player.
“Their offense, overall, played pretty well, and the quarterback, Griggs, played pretty good, too.”
Junior Tez Parks ran for a career-high 91 yards and scored his first touchdown as a Golden Eagle on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter. Junior T’Rod Daniels added 70 yards on four carries, including a 53-yard touchdown run and Griggs chipped in 51 yards on eight carries.
Junior place-kicker Parker Shaunfield kicked three field goals, giving him six in the past two games and extending his successful conversion streak to 15 in a row.
USM led 38-7 at halftime and 52-14 after three quarters.
Klugh led Charlotte in rushing with 56 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown run. He also threw a 19-yard scoring pass to senior receiver I.L. Ford in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore running back Benny Lamay netted 45 yards rushing, including an 11-yard touchdown run.