LAFAYETTE – Frank Gore, Jr.’s, three-yard touchdown run in overtime provided the difference as Southern Miss rallied in the final minutes to take a 34-31 victory over Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns Thursday night in their nationally-televised Sun Belt Conference meeting at Cajun Field.
The Golden Eagles (3-7, 2-5 SBC), taking their 11th straight win over the Cajuns, trailed 28-21 midway through the fourth quarter after UL quarterback Chandler Fields threw two touchdown passes in a 90-second span to rally the Cajuns from a one-score deficit entering the final quarter.
USM drove 75 yards to a tying score, with backup quarterback Ethan Crawford capping the drive with a nine-yard scoring pass to Jakarius Caston with 1:26 left to tie the game. UL reached its own 46 after the kickoff before running out of downs.
UL (5-5, 2-4 SBC) had the first possession in overtime and drove to the USM 7 before back-to-back penalties, and Kenneth Almendares hit a 34-yard field goal for a 31-28 advantage.
Another key Cajun penalty came on USM’s overtime possession, when UL was hit for pass interference on a third-and-long to set the Eagles up at the UL 7. Two plays later, Gore burst up the middle for his third touchdown of the night and give USM its second straight win after seven straight losses.
Gore finished with 158 rushing yards on a career-high 33 carries as part of USM’s 229 rushing yards.
Fields, who took over quarterback duties when starter Zeon Chriss was injured in last Saturday’s 37-17 loss at Arkansas State, threw for a career-high 260 yards on 24-of-38 passes and two touchdowns. Jacob Bernard and Harvey Broussard combined for 11 catches and 142 yards receiving while Dre’lyn Washington rushed for 82 yards and one score.
Broussard hauled in a 51-yard touchdown from Fields midway through the fourth quarter that tied the game, and after recovering a Gore fumble on the third play after the kickoff, Fields scrambled and found sophomore Trayv’on Culbert – who had the first three receptions of his career in the fourth quarter – for a seven-yard score that put UL in front 28-21 with 5:55 left.
Zylan Perry’s 95-yard kickoff return halfway through the second quarter brought the Cajuns back from a 14-7 deficit, and UL had an opportunity to go into halftime with the lead but was stopped on three plays inside the USM two-yard-line in the final 30 seconds of the half.
UL missed on a fourth-down attempt at the USM 38 on the game’s opening drive, but made up for that a few minutes later after forcing a punt. Fields led a 75-yard drive late in the first quarter, with Washington going for 21 yards on the first play of the drive and then closing it with a six-yard touchdown burst with 3:13 left in the first period.
The Eagles, though, came back to score on their next two possessions. Starting quarterback Billy Wiles threw for 67 yards in an 80-yard drive and found Gore in the left flat for a tying 18-yard touchdown, and after a Cajun punt the Eagles went 83 yards on nine plays for the go-ahead score. Kenyon Clay provided that tally with a 28-yard sweep around the left side for the 14-7 advantage with 8:47 left in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, though, Perry burst through a hole up the middle and went 95 untouched yards for the Cajuns’ first kickoff return touchdown since Chris Smith’s 100-yard return at UAB in 2020. It was also the first home kickoff return touchdown for UL since Raymond Calais returned two kicks for touchdowns against Southeastern Louisiana in 2017.
The Cajuns drove from their own 26 in the final 4:23 of the first half, with back-to-back completions by Fields to Terrance Carter and Peter LeBlanc taking it to the USM 5. Washington carried to the USM 2 on the first play, but a reception by Carter at the pylon was ruled short of the goal line on second down and a Jacob Kibodi fourth-down carry was also ruled short at the horn.
UL missed a golden opportunity to take the lead on the second play after halftime, when defensive end Antoine Baylis sacked Wiles and forced a fumble that was scooped up by linebacker K.C. Ossai at the USM 8. He returned it to the Eagle 1 before being hit and fumbled into the end zone, where the Eagles’ Latreal Jones recovered for a bullet-dodging touchback.
USM missed a pair of field goals in the third quarter, but UL’s offense had two three-and-outs and a bad-snap fumble in its three third-period possessions. That fumble was recovered by USM’s Quentin Bivens at the UL 28, and three plays later Gore swept the right side, breaking two tackles and going 17 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with 0:04 left in the quarter.
UL was limited to eight offensive yards in the third period, but Fields completed seven straight passes for 68 yards to start the fourth quarter after USM’s score. Again, though, the Cajuns were denied and had incompletions on third and fourth down from the Eagle 1.
That disappointment was short-lived when UL forced a three-and-out and took over at its own 38. On second down, Fields found a streaking Broussard on a post route in the end zone for the 51-yard score, the longest of Fields’ three-year career.
On the third play after the kickoff, Gore had the ball stripped by Jalen Clark on a third-and-one sweep and Cajun cornerback Glenn Brown III returned it 21 yards to the USM 2. A penalty pushed the ball back five yards, but Fields hit Culbert with the go-ahead score in the right corner of the end zone.