HATTIESBURG, Miss. -Danny Hrapmann's 49-yard field goal with 2:32 to play lifted Southern Miss to a 19-17 win over Louisiana Tech before 22,356 rain-soaked fans at Roberts Stadium Saturday night.
After the Bulldogs (0-1) took a 17-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter on a one-yard plunge by Lennon Creer, Southern Miss took its next two possessions inside LA Tech territory where it converted on a pair of field goals - one by Corey Acosta and the game-winner by Hrapmann.
Tech had two final chances but turned it over on downs around midfield with just over two minutes to play and then ran out of time with the ball inside USM territory to end the game.
USM led 10-3 after a Hrapmann 38-yard field goal attempt with only :14 to play in the third quarter when the Bulldogs special teams struck on one of three big plays they made during the night.
Lyle Fitte took the ensuing kickoff following Hrapmann's field goal and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10. It was the 10th longest kickoff return in Bulldog history and the sixth straight year that a LA Tech player has returned a kickoff or a punt for a score.
"The return was a heck of a play," said Tech head coach Sonny Dykes. "He got some good blocks and Lyle is a good return guy. He will do that against some folks this year. We had to have some plays on special teams because we weren't making many on offense."
USM retook the lead early in the fourth on a Hrapmann field goal when the Tech special teams unit struck again. This time the Bulldog punt coverage unit made the play as Justin Goodman recovered a muffled punt on the USM three-yard line, setting up Creer's one-yard run two plays later as LA Tech took a 17-13 advantage with 9:43 to play.
Corey Acosta then capped a six play drive for USM with a 42-yard field goal cutting the advantage to 17-16 with 7:44 remaining in the contest. The Bulldogs offense was unable to move the football on its next possession as Tech was forced to punt, setting up the game-winning drive by USM.
Tech freshman quarterback Nick Isham completed 20-of-36 passes for 176 yards but was hurt by six dropped passes by Bulldog receivers. Quinton Patton led Tech receivers with five catches for 95 yards while Creer led the Tech ground game with 53 yards on 17 carries.
"I thought Nick was composed," said Dykes. "That was what was most impressive to me. He played against a good football team in the rain on the road. He never got rattled. He made a couple of mistakes early. I was pretty impressed with the way he played though."
Southern Miss took the opening kickoff 72 yards on seven plays and took a 7-0 lead on a 12-yard run by Kelvin Bolden with 11:38 to play in the first quarter. The scoring drive was highlighted by a 25-yard pass to William Spight on a third down and four play, setting up the touchdown.
Following the scoring drive, both defenses stiffened as neither offense was able to move the football with any consistency.
Tech's best scoring opportunity of the first half came when linebacker Adrien Cole blocked a 45 yard field goal attempt midway through the first quarter and defensive back Dave Clark returned it to the Eagles 23-yard line.
However, USM held as Isham failed to convert on a fourth down and one quarterback keeper as the Eagles took over possession.
Tech returns to action this Saturday when it hosts Central Arkansas at 6 p.m. at Joe Aillet Stadium.
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