Ex-Viking Ray, USM defend The Rock’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 5, 2001

USM’s Alex Ray, a former Warren Central star, wraps up Oklahoma State receiver Rashaun Woods.(The Vicksburg Post)

[9/02/01]HATTIESBURG John Lewis’ latest trip to Mississippi can’t compare with his last one.

The former Hinds Community College standout, who helped lead the Eagles to the state junior college championship one season ago, watched as his Oklahoma State Cowboys (0-1) fumbled four times in a 17-9 loss to Southern Mississippi (1-0) in front of an announced crowd of 25,134.

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Lewis had three catches for 60 yards, but the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown for the second straight year against USM.

“We’re in The Rock’ and it’s our job to defend our turf,” ex-Warren Central standout Alex Ray, who recovered two of the fumbles and had four tackles, said of M.M. Roberts Stadium’s nickname.

“We wanted to come out and make a statement that we may have lost a lot of players, but we still have people who can play defense.”

Lewis, a Port Arthur, Texas, native, was a main cog in Hinds’ offense as a sophomore. He said USM’s defense showed some similarities to Hinds’ dominating defense of a season ago.

“They definitely do a couple of things I’ve seen,” said Lewis, who was making his first start. “They didn’t do anything surprising. They do a good job of disguising their blitzes.”

The Golden Eagles’ defense allowed 339 yards, including Aso Pogi’s 294 yards passing on 26 completions. He was sacked five times.

“We need to play with poise and not turn the ball over,” said Les Miles, who was coaching his first game for OSU. “If we don’t turn the ball over, it’s a much different game.”

Even with the turnovers, the Eagles needed another late OSU mistake to secure the win.

Trailing 17-9 late in the fourth quarter, Pogi connected with Tatum Bell on a screen pass that brought the ball to the USM 9-yard line. A block-in-the-back penalty moved the ball back to the Eagles’ 46-yard line.

The drive ended five plays later and the Eagles ran out the clock.

“We did well in the first half, and in the second half, offensively, we were really inconsistent,” said Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower, a former OSU assistant. “We had a few chances in the third quarter to put the game away, but we didn’t convert.”

The Eagles were shut out in the second half, but a Jeff Kelly touchdown pass to Chris Johnson late in the first quarter and a Dawayne Woods’ 1-yard TD plunge in the second quarter provided all the offense.

Kelly, a three-year starter, completed 22 of 36 passes for 277 yards. Woods led all rushers with 70 yards on 25 carries.

“We know we can play better than this,” Pogi said. “We have to go back to the table and work for next week.”

Brant Hanna gave USM a 17-6 lead late in the second quarter with a 23-yard field goal.

Oklahoma State got its points on three field goals by Luke Phillips. He connected on a 41-yarder six minutes into the game to give OSU its lone lead of the day, 3-0.

Southern Miss held a 17-6 lead lead at the half and on the opening possession, Ray recovered a fumbled kickoff return. He also recovered a fumbled punt return to start the fourth quarter.

“We want to establish an identity for ourselves,” Ray said of the defense, which lost nine starters off of last year’s team. “We all know Chad (Williams) is the leader of the secondary. We’re depending on the others to show up.”

Williams, an all-America candidate, had six tackles, forced a fumble and had a sack.

The Golden Eagles will be off next week before traveling to Birmingham to face Alabama. USM beat the Tide 21-0 a season ago.