HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Jay Hopson got exactly what he wanted to see out of his University of Southern Mississippi football team Saturday afternoon during the annual Black and Gold Game at M.M. Roberts Stadium: a close game and a lot of fun.
"It was fun," Hopson said after watching the split-squad Gold team hang on for a 20-15 win over the Black team in the finale of spring football. "It was a good game and I felt like there was a lot of competition. It looked like it could have been a runaway at first, with the Gold team jumping out quick and the Black making a run later.
"But I thought, for the most part, we tackled well and played physical football. We also had some explosive plays from our wideouts and quarterbacks, so, all in all, I thought we had a good day."
The Gold team carried a 20-0 halftime lead well into the second half on a pair of field goals by Parker Shaunfield, a 2-yard touchdown run by T'Rod Daniels' 2-yard run and an 11-yard touchdown pass from Carter Hankins to Quez Watkins.
But after the Gold a missed on a 37-yard field goal, the Black moved deep into opposing territory, only to see running back George Payne lose the football on a hit by defensive back Kris Reed after a 243-yard gain on an underneath route. Cornerback Ty Williams recovered at the Gold's 1-yard line.
But the Black defense caught Dalton Bradfield for a safety, and a few plays after the ensuing free kick, quarterback Marcelo Rodriguez hooked up Antawyn Fludd with a 58-yard touchdown pass that cut the deficit to 20-8.
On the next series, defensive lineman Allen Fails Jr. recovered a fumbled bad snap at the Gold 4-yard line. Running back Steven Anderson carried twice, the final run was a brusque, 1-yard bludgeon that pulled the Black team within five points.
The game hung in the balance until defensive back LaMarque Davis made a diving interception on a Black team pass with 1 minute, 54 seconds to play.
"Black started coming back, so everyone was like, 'It's time and we gotta go put this game away,'" said Gold running back Tez Parks, who helped his team grind off the game's final moments. "Before I went out there, (USM offensive coordinator) Coach (Shannon) Dawson said, 'Make a play. Don't let them let the ball back.'
"So, I just had the mentality to run downhill and not let one man tackle me, try and win the ballgame for my team."
Anderson and Parks each finished with 29 yards on six carries.
Watkins grabbed five passes for 56 yards and a touchdown, Fludd caught three passes for 77 yards and a score and Jaylond Adams made two catches for 73 yards.
Keon Howard, who has started nine games the past two seasons, completed 10-of-15 passes for 124 yards and had a touchdown pass dropped in the end zone. He also netted a game-high 47 yards on six carries.
Junior college transfer Jack Abraham completed 10-of-16 passes for 103 yards.
"I felt we got most of everything in that we wanted to get in, schematically, and that's a plus," Hopson said. "You just want to go into August with everything installed.
"I feel like we've created some good competition at some critical spots. It'll be fun to watch these guys go through it in August."