Southern Miss fights to end, but falls to Coastal Carolina 26-23

Photo courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics

CONWAY, SC – Southern Miss will have to wait yet another week to reach bowl eligibility after a 26-23 defeat to Coastal Carolina. In a game where the Golden Eagles were heavy underdogs, it took everything from the Chanticleers to put them away.

“I’m really proud of our kids. I was hired 23 months ago, we inherited a program with 27 kids ineligible, 62 players on scholarship, and 1 scholarship quarterback. 23 months later we are 5-5, and we just took the daddies of this league to wire, and we are hurting because we couldn’t win it,” Head coach Will Hall said in his postgame radio interview.

The Golden found themselves down 17-0 early in the game but battled back behind the performance of quarterback Trey Lowe III. Lowe went for 19-36 and 295 yards and one touchdown, which is his career high in passing yards.

“[I’m] just really proud of him. I’m proud of the human being he is. I hope my two boys grow up to be like him. Nobody has had it harder than him, from his transfers to his coaching changes, [and a] broken foot. From last year, and having to come back from that, and to everything that has gone down this year, I love him and I have high respect for him, and he played well tonight,” Hall said.

Coastal Carolina entered the game 8-1 on the season with their one loss being a fluke to Old Dominion. They were heavy favorites and early on, it looked as if they were going to cruise to victory.

Coastal Carolina took the opening drive 75 yards in just four plays. Backup Coastal quarterback Jarrett Guest found Braydon Bennett for a 41-yard gain and on the next play, Aaron Bedgood rushed right up the middle for a 30-yard touchdown to go up 7-0.

The Chanticleers took the ball right back down the field the next drive on a six-play, 70-yard drive that was capped off with a Reese White one-yard touchdown run to put Coastal up 14-0 eight minutes into the game.

Southern Miss had to find something on offense, and on the following drive, they went three and out. Coastal got the ball back and added a 32-yard field to go up 17-0.

Hall and Southern Miss were in serious jeopardy of the game getting out of hand, and they responded. Lowe put together an 11-play, 61-yard drive capped off by a Briggs Bourgeois 21-yard field goal to bring the score to 17-3.

It would start a common trend of Southern Miss not being able to finish with a touchdown in the red zone.

But after the field goal, a different life flowed into the Golden Eagles. Guest tried to squeeze the ball between a few defenders but Lakevias Daniel intercepted it and returned it to the Coastal 39. That pick was Daniel’s first interception of the season, and it could not have come at a more important time.

“The difference was that we just got off the field on third down. That was it. We got them to third and long early and they were converting third downs. And late in the game, we were making those plays on third down,” Hall said.

Southern Miss cashed in the interception and scored a touchdown on a Kenyon Clay one-yard rush to bring the score to 17-10. Southern Miss had all the momentum on both sides of the ball, and that momentum elevated the defense. As we have seen before this season, the defense playing with energy is a difficult defense to face, especially for a first-time starter in Guest.  Coastal went backward and went three and out on their next possession and Southern Miss had the ball driving to tie just a mere 10 minutes after being down 17-0.

Lowe led the offense right down the field on a five-play, 37-yard drive and threw his lone touchdown pass to cap off the drive. He found Ty Mims on a 15-yard reception in the corner of the endzone to tie the game at 17.

“Offensively, we dropped the ball early, but we moved the ball pretty consistently.  I thought Trey played well. If we could have scored another touchdown in the rezone, that could have been the difference too,” Hall said

.The third quarter was all about defense, with neither team being able to put together much offense. Both teams did hit a field goal, though. Southern Miss drove down the field on their first drive of the second half to take their first lead of the game. After Southern Miss hit another short field goal, Coastal scored the only touchdown of the second half on a two-yard rushing touchdown from White. The Golden Eagles blocked the extra point to keep the game a one-possession contest at 26-23. Southern Miss had a chance to drive to tie or take the lead, but Lowe was sacked on fourth and 10 on their final drive, which was Coastal’s fourth sack of the second half.

The Golden Eagles outgained Coastal 365-361, but errors in the redzone and sacks ended up being their Achilles heel. Coastal held Southern Miss to just 52 yards rushing.

“Galatians 6:9, you can’t grow weary of doing what’s right,” Hall said when asked what his message to the team was. “We talked about where we were at the day I walked through those doors and begged kids to stay, just to give us a chance. We were so short on scholarships and had so many people ineligible. Then we talked about how far we have come. We had to hurt tonight, because we had a great opportunity to beat the daddies of this league, and we just weren’t quite good enough to get it done.”

Southern Miss has two more opportunities to reach bowl eligibility, starting with South Alabama next weekend in the final home game of the season.