HATTIESBURG — Austin Davis rushed for four touchdowns and threw for two more as Southern Mississippi ran past Houston 59-41 on Saturday night.
Davis completed 23 of 30 passes for 285 yards without an interception, and rushed for 111 yards on 17 carries to give the Golden Eagles (8-3) an emotional win just six days after three players were shot outside a Hattiesburg nightclub.
One of those players, linebacker Martez Smith, paralyzed from the waist down as a result of his injuries, made an appearance before the game to be honored on Senior Day. Another, lineman Deddrick Jones, watched from the team’s fieldhouse in the north end zone, and the third, linebacker Tim Green, watched from his hospital room less than a mile from the stadium.
“I think tonight was about a lot more than football,” Davis said. “We were playing for these three guys, to give them something to smile about. They haven’t had much to smile about the past week.
“(Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora) challenged us as a team to play in a way that would honor them, and we took that as a serious challenge. We took it very seriously, and we took control and did what we could in their name.”
Houston quarterback David Piland set the single-game passing record for M.M. Roberts Stadium with 467 yards and four touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to make up for an anemic rushing game that accounted for just 30 yards on 19 attempts.
Kendrick Hardy rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries for Southern Miss, Patrick Edwards caught seven passes for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns and James Cleveland added nine catches for 115 yards and a score.
The two offenses combined for 1,133 yards of total offense, 642 by the Golden Eagles. The teams combined for 100 points and were 13-of-13 collectively in red-zone scoring.
“This past week has been a blur,” Fedora said. “Preparing these players in light of what has happened has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever been involved with in my life. Emotions were high before the game. Our players took the field with tears streaming down their faces.”
The Cougars also had 220 kick-return yards and returned a partially blocked field-goal attempt 90 yards for a touchdown just before halftime, but did not score on offense in the second or third quarter while Southern Miss built a 38-20 lead.
Houston (5-6) fell to 4-4 in Conference USA play and out of contention for the league’s Western Division title.
Southern Miss improved to 5-2 in the conference and needs a win next week over Tulsa and a Central Florida loss to Memphis for a chance at a Conference USA championship berth.
The Associated Press