By The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG — Shane Carden threw for 171 yards and a touchdown and East Carolina capitalized on three third-quarter turnovers to beat Southern Mississippi 24-14 Saturday in the Conference USA opener for both teams.
The Pirates (2-1) trailed 7-3 at halftime, but forced freshman quarterback Anthony Alford of Southern Mississippi (0-2) into an interception and two fumbles on three third-quarter drives, which led to three touchdowns.
After an interception early in the second half, East Carolina’s defense held on fourth-and-1 at its 16-yard line. Carden took over and led the Pirates 84 yards in four plays for a 10-7 lead.
A fumble by Alford on the next drive led to an 8-yard TD run by Carden. Another fumble on the next possession was scooped up by Montese Overton and returned 16 yards for a score to run East Carolina’s lead to 24-7.
Carden finished 13-of-27 with one touchdown and East Carolina managed just 228 yards of total offense in his first collegiate start. But the sophomore did what previous starter Rio Johnson couldn’t do in his two starts — play turnover-free football.
The Pirates had turned the ball over seven times — including five interceptions — in their first two games against Appalachian State and South Carolina. They had none Saturday.
Backup Chris Campbell replaced Alford after his second fumble late in the third quarter and led the Eagles on an 8-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. It was capped by an 8-yard pass from Campbell to Markese Triplett.
Alford, who was making his first collegiate start, completed 6 of 18 passes for 88 yards and the interception. The Golden Eagles (0-2) racked up 324 yards of offense to 228 for East Carolina.
Southern Mississippi scored on its first possession of the game after a 9-play, 70-yard drive which Alford finished off with a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
East Carolina kicker Warren Harvey drilled a 54-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
Southern Mississippi hadn’t lost a home opener in 14 seasons, since 1998. That’s also the last year the Golden Eagles started 0-2.