Southern Miss finished its tumultuous 2020 campaign with a 45-31 victory over defending Conference USA champions Florida Atlantic University (FAU), pointing towards a hopeful future for the program.
“What can you say? I’m just so proud of these men and I’m so proud of this coaching staff and it was a great way to leave this place,” Interim Head Coach Tim Billings said. “I have a soft spot in my heart for Southern Miss and always will. Hopefully, I just told these guys that this was a start to next year with the new coaching staff. I expect to see them win the championship next year and I’d be cheering for them all the way.”
Southern Miss had one of its best offensive performances of the season, gaining 514 total yards and five touchdowns against an FAU defense that was ranked sixth in the nation.
“Great job offensively by the offensive staff. I think Matt [Kubik, Offensive Coordinator] and those guys did a fantastic job,” Billings said. “You know, no one scored 45 on these guys and again, credit to our coaching staff and players.”
Southern Miss didn’t succeed on offense to start the game, though. After RB Frank Gore Jr. fumbled on the Golden Eagles’ first offensive play, FAU WR Brandon Robinson scored a 20-yard touchdown, putting the Owls up 7-0. On the next drive, Southern Miss quarterback Trey Lowe threw an interception to FAU cornerback Diashun Moss.
However, Southern Miss started to find success running the ball soon after. Gore made up for his fumble by breaking free for a 73-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game 7-7.
After scoring touchdowns, the two teams exchanged field goals. Kicker Briggs Bourgeois gave the Golden Eagles its first lead of the night on a 38-yard kick. Later, FAU kicker Vladimir Rivas kicked a 40-yard field goal to tie the game again.
The Golden Eagles then conducted a six-play, 75-yard drive. After Lowe found tight end Cole Cavallo for a 29-yard gain, he scrambled for his first collegiate touchdown on a 13-yard rush, giving Southern Miss a 17-10 lead.
“It was good, it’s always good to get your first touchdown just like at any level, so it was great,” Lowe said. “I was really appreciative of my teammates and everything.”
The Owls struck back on the next drive to tie the game again at 17-17 on a 12-yard rush from RB James Charles.
The Golden Eagles closed out the half with a 13-play drive, which was capitalized by a five-yard touchdown pass from Lowe to WR Tim Jones with eight seconds remaining. Lowe and Jones connected for three catches on the drive.
“Tim Jones, every day after practice, took him [Lowe] and made the receivers stay after practice,” Billings said. “They threw every day, and you could see a difference tonight. They had a connection. Trey did a great job of handling everything, but I have to give Tim some kudos too for just making them stay out there and work together. I think it made a huge difference tonight.”
Southern Miss continued to strike on offense in the second half. On the first drive, Lowe launched a deep ball to WR Jason Brownlee for a 43-yard touchdown, putting the Golden Eagles up 31-17.
Lowe finished the game 13-19 passing for 209 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown.
FAU scored with a goal line rushing touchdown by Charles to narrow the lead within a single possession. However, Southern Miss immediately responded. On the following kickoff, defensive back Camron Harrell scored on a 100-yard return to put Southern Miss up 38-24. Harrell described his moment of returning the touchdown.
“It was amazing, you know it’s an absolute dream come true,” Harrell said. “You know because growing up, you just see people doing those exact same things, you grow up and be like I want to do that one day[,] and for that to actually happen for me today is bigger than anyone can ever imagine.”
The game’s momentum switched when Southern Miss turned the ball overnear the end of the third quarter on a backwards pass. FAU’s safety Armani Adams recovered it for a touchdown.
However, Southern Miss continued to pound the ball against the Owls to complete another scoring drive. After a 46-yard rush by RB Darius Maberry, Perkins rushed in for a three-yard touchdown a few plays later to go up 45-31.
Southern Miss’s defense held out and prevented the Owls from scoring for the rest of the game. DB Ky’el Hemby intercepted one of FAU quarterback Nick Tronti’s throws in the endzone, allowing the Golden Eagles to line up in victory formation. Harrell described his reaction to Hemby’s interception in what could be his last game as a Golden Eagle.
“That was truly amazing. When the ball was in the air I was like ‘Ky’el get it, catch it, catch it’ because I didn’t want to ruin that moment for him[,] and I mean just the relationship I’ve personally built with Hemby, he’s a brother. He’s a brother for life. [… Just] seeing him do that and just knowing that he’s gonna go on and do bigger and better things, I’m so proud of him. I can’t be happier for the man,” Harrell said.
Southern Miss finishes the season with a 3-7 record. The Golden Eagles will begin a new era next season under the leadership of newly signed Head Coach Will Hall.