Photo and story courtesy of USM Athletics
Southern Miss football coach Jay Hopson summed up Saturday’s slugfest between the Golden Eagles and Troy quite well.
“I’ll tell you, that was a fun game to watch,” Hopson said in the wake of his Golden Eagles’ 47-42 victory over the Trojans before 27,108 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“You don’t get an opportunity to coach in too many of those.”
Not when each team surpassed 500 yards in the passing game, and the two teams combined for more than 1,100 yards total offense.
“We were having a lot of fun out there,” said sophomore receiver Jaylond Adams, who had a career night with 11 catches for 180 yards and returned a momentum-flipping kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. It was most definitely fun.”
And most definitely nerve-wracking, with the final result still in the balance until a 6-yard run by Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham on fourth-and-2 from the Troy 33 with less than 20 seconds left in the game.
“Honestly, words cannot explain how I feel right now,” said junior Quez Watkins, who turned in the fifth-highest yardage game by a receiver, finishing with seven catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns. “I’m just truly blessed. That’s exactly how I feel, blessed.”
The Golden Eagles improved to 2-1 as Abraham rewrote his own record by completing his first 17 passes of the game, on his way to completing 28-of-36 passes for 463 yards, the third-highest passing yardage in a game in program history.
With senior Neil McLaurin throwing a 51-yard touchdown pass to senior Jordan Mitchell, USM finished 514 yards passing.
Add in another 112 yards rushing, and the Golden Eagles’ uneven offense roared to life Saturday afternoon under Abraham’s tutelage.
While the yards themselves were eye-catching, so were the circumstances in many cases.
Through three quarters, the Golden Eagles were 10-of-14 on third downs (71.4 percent). Southern Miss finished the game converting 11-of-17 third-down opportunities (64.7 percent).
“Jack did a great job directing the offense,” Hopson said.
As did Abraham’s counterpart, Troy senior quarterback Kaleb Barker.
Barker completed 29-of-43 passes for a program-record 504 yards and four touchdowns.
Barker became only the fourth quarterback to throw for 500 yards against the Golden Eagles, joining Houston’s Case Keenum (559 yards, 1999); Georgia’s Eric Zeier (544 yards, 1993); and San Diego State’s Dennis Shaw (524 yards, 1968).
Barker also became the first quarterback to throw for 500 yards against Southern Miss in a losing effort.
Four different Troy receivers topped 100 yards, including junior Tray Eafford (110 yards, seven catches, one touchdown); junior Kaylon Geiger (118 yards, six catches, on touchdown); sophomore Luke Whittemore (110 yards, five catches); and junior Khalil McClain (104 yards, four catches, two touchdowns).
Southern Miss jumped out 14-0 on a 5-yard run by Abraham and a 1-yard blast by sophomore Steven Anderson.
Troy tied the game on drives of 93 yards and 97 yards, with the first capped by a 57-yard strike to Geiger and the second on a 2-yard run by sophomore D.K. Billingsley, respectively.
Freshman Andrew Stein’s 26-yard field goal lifted Southern Miss into a 17-14 halftime lead.
That edge disappeared quickly as the Trojans went up 21-17 on Eafford’s 25-yard touchdown catch.
But the Golden Eagles seized control by scoring on three consecutive possessions over the third and fourth quarters, taking a 33-21 lead on Stein’s 39-yard field goal, Watkins’ 19-yard touchdown catch and Mitchell’s 51-yard score.
Reggie Todd pulled Troy to within 33-28 by returning a pooch kickoff 69 yards for a score, but Adams responded with return of his own, taking Troy’s kick 100-yards to restore the two-score cushion.
McClain’s 34-yard touchdown catch was answered by Watkins’ 64-yard score, though Troy had one last shot after McClain’s 35-yard score with 2:51 left in the game.
But Tim Jones recovered Troy’s on-side kick, and Southern Miss rode out the clock.
The Golden Eagles remain on the road, wrapping up a three-game road trip with an 11 a.m. Saturday kickoff at Alabama.