Fast start, strong finish, help USM log 2nd straight football win
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ The University of Southern Mississippi made the best of a bad situation, closing a rough 2021 football season with a two-game winning streak after taking down Florida International University, 37-17, Saturday afternoon at M.M. Roberts.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re going to be,” USM football coach Will Hall said after USM built a 21-first quarter lead and then outscored FIU 14-0 in the final period with the Panthers lingering within a touchdown.
Frank Gore Jr., one of three Golden Eagles operating as a “Super Back” Saturday, had a hand in four of the Golden Eagles’ five touchdowns, running for two scores and finding receiver Jason Brownlee with two passing touchdowns.
USM (3-9, 2-6 Conference USA) snapped an eight-game losing streak last week when it beat Louisiana Tech University, 35-19, on the road.
The Golden Eagles picked up where they left off the week before in Ruston, La., using two turnovers and a 77-yard punt return to set up the first three touchdowns of the game and grab a 21-0 lead in a span of 2 minutes, 40 seconds, in the first quarter.
FIU (1-11, 0-8), which lost its last 11 games of the season, scored on a 91-yard touchdown pass from Max Bortenschlager to Tyrese Chambers to end the first quarter.
The Golden Panthers ground out a 79-yard drive in the second quarter that was capped by Lexington Joseph’s 8-yard touchdown run and got FIU within 21-14 at halftime.
The teams swapped field goals in the third quarter, before USM took control in the fourth quarter.
Gore, who scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter, bulled in from 5 yards out to give USM a 31-17 lead early in the fourth quarter and iced the game with his second touchdown pass to Brownlee, a 34-yarder that all but iced the game.
“We’re making plays when the money’s on the table,” Hall said. “These young kids, they’re learning how to win, and that’s a learned trait, learning how to win. It’s not something you’re born with. It has to be learned.”
USM’s offense put up a season-high 444 yards and the defense came up with six turnovers, recovering four fumbles and picking off two passes.
Gore ran for 68 yards and two touchdowns and completed 4-of-5 passes for 81 yards with two touchdowns.
Brownlee grabbed five passes for 98 yards with two touchdowns, both 34-yard receptions.
Dajon Richard ran for a game-high 107 yards on 17 carries, including a 38-yard touchdown run, while Demarcus Jones added 90 yards on nine carries as USM ran for 322 yards rushing.
Antavious Willis picked up 59 yards on four carries and completed all four of his passes for another 41 yards.
Chambers finished with five catches for 155 yards and a touchdown for the Golden Panthers, while Joseph rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
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