GREENVILLE, N.C. — C.J. Wilson returned a blocked extra point for the tiebreaking defensive two-point conversion that lifted East Carolina past Southern Mississippi 25-20 on Saturday and back into the Conference USA championship game.
Patrick Pinkney was 25 of 41 passing for 269 yards and Dwayne Harris and defensive tackle Linval Joseph had scoring runs for the Pirates (8-4, 7-1).
The defending league champions claimed home-field advantage for next week’s title game against either No. 25 Houston or SMU by beating the Golden Eagles (7-5, 6-2) in Greenville for the first time since 1994.
Damion Fletcher had 60 yards rushing for Southern Miss, and his 3-yard touchdown pass to Leroy Banks made it 20-all with 7:35 to play.
But Wilson burst through the middle to block Daniel Hrapmann’s PAT, scooped it up near the 25-yard line and raced downfield while being escorted by a convoy of blockers to put the Pirates up 22-20.
Ben Hartman made it a five-point game with his third field goal of the day, a 47-yarder with 4:37 remaining. Martevious Young couldn’t bring the Golden Eagles past midfield in both of their possessions after that, with Steve Spence sacking him on the final play of the game.
Tory Harrison rushed 41 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, Young finished 20 of 44 for 262 yards with a score and DeAndre Brown had 145 yards receiving on seven catches for Southern Miss.
The Golden Eagles, trying to reach the C-USA title game for the first time since 2006, rallied from 10 points down before ultimately slipping to 1-5 on the road this year and losing on East Carolina’s home field for just the third time in 18 appearances. The Pirates’ only two prior victories against Southern Miss in Conference USA play came in Hattiesburg.
Harris put forth one of the Pirates’ best individual efforts of the season. After bobbling an end-around handoff, he recovered in time to run through a feeble tackling attempt and race 34 yards down the left sideline to put East Carolina up 10-7.
Pinkney then kept things rolling, completing five straight passes before his 12-yard scramble got the Pirates to the 5. Two plays later, Joseph — a 322-pound defensive tackle who lined up at fullback — plunged across the goal line to make it a 10-point game with about 5½ minutes before halftime.
Southern Miss hit on a pair of huge gainers early — both 40-yard passes from Young to Brown — but could turn them into only seven points, a 17-yard scoring pass from Young to Freddie Parham that made it 7-3 late in the quarter. That came one possession after the Golden Eagles blew a golden scoring opportunity, when Fletcher fumbled at the 1.
Joedy McCreary/The Associated Press