NEW ORLEANS - After winning its previous four games to become bowl eligible, Southern Mississippi needed one last rally to extend its streak of seasons without a losing record to 15.
Michael McGee blocked a potential game-tying field goal attempt in overtime, lifting Southern Mississippi to a 30-27 comeback victory over Troy in the New Orleans Bowl on Sunday night.
Troy held Southern Miss to Britt Barefoot’s 39-yard field goal on the first possession of OT, but that wound up being enough for the Golden Eagles to win their third New Orleans Bowl in as many appearances.
McGee knifed in from the left end, diving as he smothered Sam Glusman’s 28-yard kick to clinch the win.
“I was trying my best to get there and by the time I got 3 yards away from the ball, I didn’t see nobody trying to block down on me, so I just dove and gave it my all,” McGee said.
Southern Miss (7-6) finished the season with a five-game winning streak.
“I just can’t say how proud I am of this whole football team,” first-year Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. “They were probably the only ones out there that really believed we would get it done. They never gave up, they believed in the coaches. ... They grew and they became a heck of a football team.”
The Trojans (8-5), winners of the Sun Belt Conference, led 27-17 after Jerrel Jernigan’s 6-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Southern Miss began its comeback when Austin Davis rolled out on fourth-and-2 and lofted a 35-yard touchdown to tight end Jonathan Massey with 7:20 left in regulation.
“The day I took the job I said we were going to attack ... and we’ve had that philosophy all year,” Fedora said. “That’s a play we’ve worked and executed numerous times in practice and that’s not the first time we’ve hit that play in a game so I don’t think it was that big of a risk to be honest.”
Southern Miss was forced to play most of the game without leading receiver DeAndre Brown, who broke his left leg on an awkward landing in the end zone after his attempt at a leaping catch was batten down in the first quarter. Only one series earlier, Brown had set a single-season school record for receptions with 67 on a 9-yard catch.
Without his top target, Davis completed 20 of 34 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, including a 64-yard scoring pass to New Orleans native Gerald Baptiste on a flea flicker in the first quarter.
Southern Miss career rushing leader Damion Fletcher carried 14 times for 78 yards and a touchdown on an 8-yard end run. Fletcher also caught three passes for 23 yards.
Baptiste finished with five catches for 88 yards.
Troy’s Levi Brown was 26-of-43 for 255 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kennard Burton. Troy took the early lead on Jorrick Calvin’s 17-yard fumble return and never trailed until overtime.
“We played LSU earlier this year and blew a 28-point lead. After that, we knew nothing’s in hand until the game’s over,” Brown said. “I expected it to be a close game and I was thrilled to be up 10 in the fourth, but we couldn’t finish it.”
Jernigan had nine catches for 65 yards, breaking a 40-year-old Troy record for single-season receptions. He finished with 77 catches on the year, passing Danny Grant, who caught 72 passes in 1968.
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