A series of turnovers and other unfortunate events saw South Alabama headed into the fourth quarter at Southern Miss at four on Saturday, but the Jaguars’ offense found another gear in the final 15 minutes.
Carter Bradley threw touchdown passes to Devin Voisin and Caullin Lacy in the closing stages, and the defense got a big stop as South Alabama earned a 27-20 win at MM Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg. The win puts the Jaguars 9-2 overall and 6-1 in the Sun Belt Conference with one game remaining in the regular season.
“It was certainly a hard-fought win,” said South Alabama coach Kane Wommack. “When you lose the revenue margin, it’s hard to win a football game. … I thought one of the cool things about this game – and this is where I’m really proud of our team, we kept gaining momentum.
“Southern Miss is a team that plays very emotionally, they play with a long energy and we’ve always been able to gain momentum. That was really huge.”
South Alabama has four straight wins, its longest streak since 2014. The Jaguars also set program records with their fifth road win of the season and sixth conference win.
Troy defeated ULM 34-16 on Saturday to keep pace with the Jaguars in the Sun Belt West and holds the neck-and-neck tiebreaker based on a 10-6 win in Mobile on Oct. 20. South Alabama can only win the West if the Trojans lose at Arkansas State next Saturday and the Jaguars beat Old Dominion.
South Alabama played around with Southern Miss for most of the day, turning the ball over three times in the first 32 minutes of play. This allowed Southern Miss (5-6, 3-4) to stay within 13-10 at halftime and take a 17-13 lead late in the third quarter.
Bradley rushed the Jaguars 61 yards in 10 games to take a final 11-31 lead and found Voisin for a 26-yard score to put South Alabama 20-17 ahead after Diego Guajardo scored the extra point would have. The touchdown came when Bradley – who was briefly knocked out of the game in the first half with a left arm injury – scrambled to the right and then threw across the field to a wide-open Voisin, who caught the ball in the 5 and dove in the end zone.
“They covered it pretty well and I saw Carter climb,” Voisin said. “The whole defense went after him. So I put my hands up and Carter could find me and make a great play. Not many people can make throws like that. … He can throw and trip over his body like that, it just goes to show how good a quarterback he is.
South Alabama’s defense then stood strong, stopping Southern Miss in fourth and sixth at the USA 45 when Jamie Sheriff and Charles Coleman reached out to Golden Eagles quarterback Trey Lowe and got him to speed up his throw. It took the Jaguars just two games to gain two points, with Caullin Lacy taking a speed sweep pass from Bradley from 32 yards into the end zone to make it 27-17 at 1:53.
Driving into the red zone, Southern Miss chose to take Brooks Bourgeios’ 36-yard field goal with 13 seconds left and then attempt an onside kick. Voisin wobbled the slow roller first, then retrieved it at USA 49 to allow the Jaguars to time out.
“When the ball rolls that low, you expect a big bounce,” Voisin said of the onside kick. “The big leap didn’t come. … The entire (Southern Miss) team was after me. They scratched me, hit me, they ripped off my helmet. I had (teammate) Jamaal Pritchett on me so he could help me turn around and get out of there.”
South Alabama beat Southern Miss 274-91 in the first half but only led 13-10 at the break. Bradley threw two interceptions but managed to throw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Wayne to end the game at 10-10 with 3:51 at the half.
Bradley was drilled on the play and walked to the touchline, trailing his left arm. He returned for the Jaguars’ next possession and then gave way to Desmond Trotter for the last 44 seconds of the half after South Alabama got the ball back at 32.
Trotter — who hadn’t played since the Sept. 24 Louisiana Tech game — completed passes for 15 yards to Wayne and four yards to Braylon McReynolds, and also ran 18 yards to put the Jaguars within range of the field goal. Guajardo’s season-long 49-yarder late in the second quarter put the USA three ahead at the break.
“Getting thrown into a game is hard enough, but doing it in a two-minute situation where the rush and the pressure is coming to make some big throws and lengthen the plays is something else,” he said wommack “What a credit to Desmond Trotter to basically not play all season and just be ready at any moment. That’s why I say that with this team we have a lot of different ways we can win.”
South Alabama’s Jaden Voisin hit Lowe on the third play of the second half, but the Jaguars returned the ball straight when Devin Voisin – Jaden’s twin brother – fumbled after an 11-yard gain. Southern Miss took the lead by 1:09 in third place thanks to a failed but successful trick play.
The Golden Eagles attempted a direct snap to run back Frank Gore, but the ball bounced off his hands and rolled behind him. Gore picked up the ball and threw it deep to Jason Brownlee, who caught him in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown and a Southern Miss 17-13 lead (Brownlee seemed to ground South Alabama defenseman Darrell Luter to bump, but no call was made.)
South Alabama mostly bottled Gore as a runner, limiting him to 66 yards on 20 carries. His 7-yard touchdown run — which came after an interception by Jay Stanley and a well-aimed foul on the Jaguars’ Rickey Hyatt — gave the Golden Eagles a 7-3 lead after a quarter.
The Jaguars failed a fake punt on their own 36 midway through the second quarter. That gave Bourgeois’ 22-yard field goal and a 10-3 lead for Southern Miss with 5:34 before halftime.
Aside from Bradley playing injured, South Alabama was also without running back La’Damian Webb, who was sidelined against Texas State last week with a foot injury. Freshman Braylon McReynolds filled in and made a big impression.
McReynolds rushed for 64 yards on the second stroke of the game and set up Guajardo’s 27-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead for South Alabama at the 12:16 mark of the first quarter. The Mobile native rushed 15 times for 100 yards and caught three passes for 66 yards.
“When La’Damian went down, the first thing that came to mind was ‘The next man up,'” McReynolds said. “(Coaches) have been preaching that to me all week. I understand that now it’s my turn to be in the same position as La’Damian. Those are big shoes to fill. I just hope I can do the same. I feel so.”
Devin Voisin caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown while Lacy had 89 yards in kick returns in addition to his 33-yard touchdown reception. Marco Lee ran 25 yards on six carries, two of which resulted in fourth down conversions.
Bradley finished the day 15-to-22 for 238 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. He now has 2,793 yards and 23 touchdown passes this season, both South Alabama program records.
“Carter was really hurt at the end, but he kept fighting,” Wommack said. “It was fantastic.”
Along with his interception, Jaden Voisin finished a career-best 17 tackles. The Jaguars sacked Lowe twice and rushed him four times, making nine total tackles for the loss.
“We changed our mentality in the second half,” Sheriff said. “We knew we could get to the quarterback and we knew they were giving us some looks that could get us there. And we just took them.”
Kick off time for next Saturday’s South Alabama-Old Dominion is at 11 a.m. at Hancock Whitney Stadium. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.