Zach Wilcke and Chandler Pittman connect for “magical” Southern Miss victory over Texas State

Photo by Charlie Luttrell, SM2 

SAN MARCOS, TX – Late game heroics by freshman quarterback Zach Wilcke and Chandler Pittman lifted Southern Miss past Texas State 20-14, handing the Bobcats their first home loss of the season. Wilcke connected with Pittman on fourth down on a go-ahead 53-yard touchdown pass with just 32 seconds left in regulation.

“Like I said last week, it’s going to be ugly for a little while right now, but we are winning, and we are winning on the field and off the field,” Head Coach Will Hall said in his postgame interview with the Voice of the Golden Eagles John Cox.

Southern Miss had been leading the entire game until the final two minutes when starting Texas State quarterback Layne Hatcher found Ashtyn Hawkins for a 74-yard touchdown. The Golden Eagles got the ball back on their 31-yard line and needed points to win the game. Wilcke and Pittman delivered.

“I’ve been telling you, man. We are building a lot of magic here. Magic is built through hard work and doing things right all the time,” Hall said.

It indeed was “magical.” The offense was stagnant all night and seemed to find the right time to break through and score the winning touchdown. Southern Miss had just 51 yards up to that point in the third quarter, desperately needing offense to try and win the game. And when they needed it the most, the offense found a way to get it done.

Southern Miss started the game with steady drives on offense. They had a nice drive into plus territory in the first quarter, which yielded a Briggs Bourgeois 33-yard field goal to open up the scoring as USM led 3-0.

But Southern Miss was again led by a defense that held Texas State to a net of negative six yards rushing the entire night, and a unit that got three sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Defensive back Malik Shorts led the way with five solo tackles and one tackle for loss.

Southern Miss has been acclaimed to be known as the “Nasty Bunch” and they sure were nasty.

The Golden Eagles were down two starters on offense, with starting center Briason Mayes and starting wide receiver Jakarius Caston out. The other guys on the offense filled in nicely for them. Receiver Tiaquelin Mims was second in the team in receiving with 52 yards behind Pittman with his lone 53-yard reception.

“We were short a lot of guys in the middle of the year tonight, and we were able to overcome it. We are doing it right, we’re bringing the magic back-the Eagle magic,” Hall said.

Southern Miss’ first touchdown came on a seven-play, 37-yard drive. Backup running back Janari Dean scored a two-yard rushing touchdown to give the Golden Eagles a 10-0 lead.

Texas State came right back and drove down the field on an eight-play, 75-yard drive that closed the score to 10-7. The Golden Eagles found a way to get points heading into the locker room with a Bourgeois 40-yard field goal to make the score 13-7 at halftime.

The score stayed at 13-7 until the back-to-back touchdown by both teams late in the fourth quarter.

Wilcke finished the game with 18-25 passing for 187 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.

The run game was held in check for most of the contest, but Southern Miss starting running back Frank Gore Jr still had a 91-yard rushing night. That was enough for Gore Jr to go over 2,000 career rushing yards; he now has 2,077 in his two-plus-year career.

The score by Pittman was his first of the year and the third of his career.

“Coach Hall has told us all season to play with good effort. Do your job and when you do your job, good things happen. I was fortunate enough to make that play and I can’t be thankful enough that they trusted me to put me out there because that’s what I do,” Pittman said to Cox on the radio after the game.

As much as it struggled for some parts of this game, the offense showed up when it needed to.

Southern Miss moves on to 4-3, which is the first time the program has been above the .500 mark at the midway point since 2019.

The Golden Eagles will host Louisiana in a midweek contest at the Rock on Thursday at 6:30 pm on a nationally televised stage on ESPN2.

“We need everybody. As I said it’s hard for us right now, but these kids are battling- they are battling every day. They believe in Southern Miss, these kids chose Southern Miss [and] they believe in the overall mission of Southern Miss. Man, get behind them Thursday night,” Hall said.

Southern Miss sure did believe tonight, and the “magic” happened.