HATTIESBURG, Miss (WDAM) - The third time proved not to be the charm for the University of Southern Mississippi after it welcomed Western Kentucky University to M.M. Roberts Stadium Saturday afternoon.
The two teams were meeting on the football field for only the third time ever, and like the previous two, the Hilltoppers wound up topping the Golden Eagles, handing USM a 28-10 loss before an announced 20,369.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak by the Golden Eagles (7-3, 5-2 Conference), and ruined the final home game for 18 seniors, who were hoping to wrap up a 5-0 mark at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
“They got all the breaks (Saturday),” USM coach Jay Hopson said. "It seemed like every bounce of the ball went against us.
“(Saturday) would have marked the first time in seven or eight years that we could have gone undefeated at home. You know you wanted (the seniors) to go out undefeated at The Rock, but it’s football.”
The Golden Eagles also missed an opportunity to move into sole possession of first place in C-USA’s West Division USM remains in a first-place tie atop the division with Louisiana Tech University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, all with 5-2 records.
All three schools will wrap up their regular seasons Saturday, with the Golden Eagles on the road at Florida Atlantic University at 2:30 p.m.
But USM may have lost more than a ballgame Saturday.
Starting USM quarterback Jack Abraham was helped off the field with about 8 minutes left in the game after getting his lower leg jammed into the turf on a 5-yard run.
“We will see,” Hopson said. “I do not know if it is that bad.”
Earlier in the game, the Golden Eagles lost starting linebackers Swayze Bozeman and Racheem Boothe to what appeared to be lower leg injuries.
“Sometimes adversity is going to strike you and you just have to overcome it,” USM safety D.Q. Thomas said.
WKU (7-4, 5-2), which snapped a two-game losing streak, took the opening possession of the game went 75 yards for a touchdown, scoring on 21-yard run by receiver Jacquez Sloan
USM answered on a 68-yard pass from Abraham to receiver Tim Jones. It marked the third consecutive week the pair had hooked up a touchdown.
The Hilltoppers ruled the roost from there.
WKU took the lead for good on a 64-yard pass from Ty Storey to Jahcour Pearson less than 3 minutes into the second quarter.
The lead grew to 21-7 at halftime on Storey’s 21-yard pass to Quin Jernighan.
After a scoreless third quarter, WKU made it 28-7 when Abraham was sacked by WKU defensive tackle Jeremy Darden, causing a fumble that was scooped up by DeAngelo Malone and returned 5 yards for a touchdown.
The Golden Eagles missed on three, red-zone opportunities, coming up empty when:
- Quez Watkins was ruled to have fumbled before crossing the goal-line with a potential, game-tying 14-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter
WKU cornerback Trae Meadows returned the ball 46 yards, USM got hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty added to the return, and four plays later, the Hilltoppers had a two-touchdown lead instead of looking at a tied game
- Freshman Andrew Stein, who curiously was sent out to kick a meaningless 22-yard field goal with less than 2 minutes to play, missed a 44-yard field goal that would have pulled USM to within 21-10 at the half
- USM failed on third-and-1 the Hilltoppers’ 7-yard line when Neil McLauren flat-out dropped Abraham’s pass for a likely first down if not touchdown. The Golden Eagles then saw De’Michael Harris stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1
Abraham completed 16-of-31 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. Tim Jones caught seven passes for a game-high 159 yards.
Watkins caught eight passes for 90 yards, becoming just the eighth Golden Eagle in program history to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a single season (1,011 yards).
Storey completed 20-of-30 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Pearson (88 yards) and Lucky Jackson (36 yards) each had seven catches for WKU.