Southern Miss finishes its season with a loss to Troy

Published 1:37 pm Sunday, November 26, 2023

HATTIESBURG (AP) — Gunnar Watson had two scoring passes, wide receiver Chris Lewis threw for a touchdown and Troy beat Southern Miss 35-17 on Saturday to earn the right to host the Sun Belt Conference championship game.

The Trojans (10-2, 7-1) have won nine straight with seven of the nine victories coming by 18 or more points. Troy has allowed just two rushing touchdowns in its last seven games. It will play in the Sun Belt championship game Dec. 2 against Appalachian State.

Southern Miss (3-9, 2-6) took a big step backward one season after winning a bowl game.

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“I think you’re always reflecting and growing. I don’t think you’re ever judged in life by your failures unless you quit,” Southern Miss coach Will Hall said. “You’re always judged by your successes, but the tricky thing is your successes are directly related to the amount of times you failed and didn’t quit, and we’re not about to quit here.”

Troy’s Kimani Vidal ran for a 2-yard score with 5:30 left in the first quarter for the game’s first score. Southern Miss held Troy to a punt and three plays later, Frank Gore Jr. sprinted for a 57-yard touchdown for a 10-7 lead. The lead was short lived when Troy went on a five-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Watson throwing a 13-yard scoring pass to Lewis.

The Trojans sealed it in the third when Watson threw a 2-yard score to Ethan Conner with 9:23 left in the third. Four minutes later, Chris Rodgers returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-10. Troy closed the scoring when wideout Lewis took a lateral and threw to an open Clayton Ollendieck for a 30-yard score.

“I thought we did a good job taking the run away all game long and we found ways to run the football…very few teams do that on them,” Hall said. “We had some boneheaded plays in there that we got to fix, and probably did better on third down on them than anybody’s done all year. We just had a few plays that if we make a few of those, it’s a different game.”

Freshman quarterback Ethan Crawford passed for 132 yards and a touchdown for Southern Miss in his second career start, while Gore had a big day in what might have been his final game at Southern Miss.

Gore ran for 95 yards and the one touchdown, and caught five passes for 59 yards. He became the first Southern Miss player with ten or more rushing touchdowns in a season since Ito Smith in 2013, and joined Smith and Damion Fletcher as the only players with 4,000 career rushing yards.

Gore finished the season with 1,131 rushing yards. He has one year of eligibility remaining, but has earned his degree from Southern Miss and it’s uncertain if he’ll return for another season or go to a different school as a graduate transfer.

“Coming here, I was a good football player but needed to figure many things out in my life, and Coach Hall helped me with that a lot, as well as my other coaches. I feel like they helped me become a man; this program means everything to me,” Gore said. “I am just at a loss for words of how much I have grown as a person, teammate, and leader. I owe this program everything, and I am so thankful that I could come here all four years.”