(UL Athletics) HATTIESBURG, Miss. – A fired up Southern Miss football squad scored 20 points in the opening period and held off a second-half rally for a 39-24 victory over the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in a nationally-televised Sun Belt Conference game on Thursday at M.M. Roberts Stadium. 

Louisiana (4-4, 2-3 SBC), which returns home to host SBC West Division leader Troy on Nov. 5 for Senior Day, trailed 20-5 at the end of the first quarter and 29-11 at halftime before getting to 32-24 when Terrence Williams scored from 1-yard out with 3:12 remaining. 

But after Louisiana forced punt with 2:15 remaining, Natrone Brooks iced the game with a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:14 left. 

Louisiana got a career-high six receptions from Michael Jefferson for 179 yards – the ninth-most in a single game in Ragin’ Cajuns history butturned the ball over a season-high four times which led to 17 USM points while falling to 1-24 overall all-time in Hattiesburg. 

Kris Moncrief’s interception on USM’s first play of the night gave Louisiana excellent field position at the USM 37, but the Golden Eagles defense would hold as Chris Smith was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-3 at the USM 30. 

USM would score two possessions later after Malik Shorts’ 30-yard interception return to the UL 19. The Golden Eagles would score five plays later when Janari Dean scored on a 1-yard plunge with 7:29 remaining in the first half before Trey Amos blocked Briggs Bourgeois’ PAT attempt and returned it for a defensive 2-point conversion. 

The Golden Eagles responded with a three-play, 59-yard drive as Gore fired a 52-yard scoring pass to Tiaquelin Mims. USM increased its lead to 20-2 on its next possession when Zach Wilcke found Jason Brownlee on a seam route and the receiver sprinted 76 yards for a TD. 

USM, which gained 284 of its 339 yards of total offense in the first half, added a safety for a 22-5 lead and Brownlee caught a 12-yard pass from Wilcke to give the Golden Eagles a 29-5 lead with 5:29 remaining in the half. 

Ben Wooldridge, who was 21-for-46 for a career-high 336 yards and a pair of touchdowns, would connect with Jefferson on a 63-yard TD pass down the left sideline to cut Louisiana’s deficit to 29-11 with 3:39 remaining in the half before finding John Stephens, Jr., for a 9-yard strike in the third period to get the Ragin’ Cajuns to within 29-17. 

Louisiana recorded 439 yards of total offense, including 262 in the second half, while holding USM to 55 yards of total offense in the final 30 minutes.  

Kris Moncrief totaled a career-high 11 tackles to lead Louisiana with Zi’Yon Hill-Green tying a career-mark with nine stops.