Hankins drives Memphis past USM|[11/11/07]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 11, 2007

HATTIESBURG – Call it the revenge of Martin Hankins.

The former Hattiesburg High quarterback led the Memphis Tigers to two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes, 21 seconds to cap a wild 29-26 Conference-USA win over Southern Miss on Saturday night.

Hankins appeared to have blown the Tigers’ chances when Southern Miss defensive back Brandon Sumrall picked off his third down pass and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to put the Golden Eagles up 26-14 with 10:37 remaining.

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Back came the Tigers (5-5, 4-2 C-USA).

“Maybe we just got too comfortable. We lost our poise,” Sumrall said after Hankins rallied the Tigers.

The Golden Eagles (5-5, 4-3) had the Tigers on fourth down from the Southern Miss 12 with 4:30 remaining. A stop would have sealed it. Instead, Hankins found Earnest Williams on a 12-yard TD pass.

It was the second fourth-down conversion Hankins was able to make for the Tigers and he was also 9-of-17 on third down pass conversions.

Former Warren Central product Chico Hunter had a front-row seat on Hankins’ third touchdown pass that made it 26-21.

“I just misjudged my jump. It went right through me. That could’ve gotten us off the field,” Hunter said.

The Golden Eagle offense had its chance to keep Hankins from coming back. They faced a third-and-three from the 35, but Jeremy Young’s pass to Damion Fletcher fell incomplete.

“We needed a first down, that was the best play for it,” said a curt Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower on the incompletion that stopped the clock at 2:48.

Memphis regained possession at its own 23 with 2:37 left. Hankins quickly completed an 18-yard pass to the 41. Three plays later he caught Southern Miss in man-to-man coverage and found Carlos Singleton open. Eagle cornerback Michael Magee went for a shoulder tackle and failed miserably. Singleton had an easy jaunt to the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown with 1:04 left.

“We were in man and if they get the pass off and you can’t bring him down, they are going to score,” Sumrall said.

Memphis added the 2-point conversion on another Hankins pass to make it 29-26.

The Tigers then sealed the game on LaKeitharun Ford’s interception of Young with 47 seconds left.

The loss leaves Southern Miss a win from being bowl eligible.

“We’ve got to win the next two games, and see if we can get to a bowl,” Bower said.

Hankins finished 35-of-48 for 396 yards and four touchdowns.

Fletcher had 97 yards rushing to go over 1,000 yards for the second straight season.