Fedora ends run at USM as a winner

Published 11:27 am Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ever since he anounced he was leaving to become North Carolina’s coach, Larry Fedora has said it wasn’t an easy decision.

Watching his last Southern Miss team finish off an outstanding season, however, it wasn’t a stretch to say Fedora had accomplished everything he wanted in Hattiesburg.

The Golden Eagles beat Nevada, 24-17, in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve to finish the Fedora era in style. They went 12-2 this season, becoming the first Southern Miss team to win 12 games and the first to win 10 since 1988. They also won the Conference USA championship for the first time since 2003.

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When it was over Saturday night, Fedora spoke fondly of this year’s team.

“I’m proud to be the coach of likely the greatest team in Southern Mississippi history,” Fedora said.

Fedora added that it won’t be easy heading to Chapel Hill, and not just because his next team might not be as good as his current one. North Carolina lost 41-24 to Missouri in the Independence Bowl on Monday night to finish the season 7-6, and has an NCAA investigation looming over its future.

“It’s very difficult. My heart and soul is with these guys,” Fedora said of leaving Southern Miss. “I would be surprised if any other team in the country outworked this football team.”

The Golden Eagles certainly had to work to win the Hawaii Bowl.

Quarterback Austin Davis was off most of the night until the game-winning drive. On third-and-goal, he scrambled right and found Kelvin Bolden for the 4-yard score, capping a seven-play, 68-yard drive. Davis had just 59 yards passing at halftime and finished 18-of-41 for 165 yards.

On the winning drive, Davis was 3-of-4 for 66 yards, including a 43-yard completion to Dominique Sullivan down the right sideline and a 19-yarder to William Spight.

With Davis held in check, the Golden Eagles relied on their defense and special teams.

With 3:56 left, Nevada running back Lampford Mark was stopped on fourth-and-1 at midfield. Mark had 183 yards rushing for the Wolf Pack (7-6) but was held to 21 yards in the second half.

In the first quarter, Tray Becton-Martin recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for USM’s first touchdown and Danny Hrapmann kicked a 48-yard field goal late in the first half.

Hrapmann’s field goal and Davis’ TD pass to Lampley were part of a 10-point surge in the final 90 seconds of the first half. Although Nevada tied it at 17 with a field goal in the third quarter, Southern Miss never trailed in the second half.

“That was big. I felt like we played so bad, but we were winning at halftime and that’s a credit to how well our defense was playing and our special teams,” Davis said. “Our special teams has made an unbelievable difference in our season this year. It seems like every time we needed it, they managed to come up with a game-changing play.”