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Southern Miss downs previously unbeaten Houston in C-USA title game

Dec 3, 2011 - 11:42 PM Houston, TX (Sports Network) - Austin Davis completed 17-of-33 passes for 279 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, leading No. 24 Southern Mississippi to a stunning 49-28 upset of the seventh-ranked Houston Cougars on Saturday to capture the 2011 Conference USA championship.

Tracy Lampley had a big day for the Golden Eagles (11-2), catching six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the Southern Mississippi rushing attack with 71 yards on the ground on 14 carries.

Dominique Sullivan brought in four balls for 95 yards and a score, while Ryan Balentine caught three passes for 24 yards and a touchdown.

The Southern Mississippi defense also came up huge with two interceptions -- one returned for a touchdown -- and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown en route to the program's fifth conference title.

"The defense came out ready to play today," Southern Mississippi head coach Larry Fedora said. "If you take away the trash touchdown at the end, and the one the offense gave them at their three or four yard line, that is 14 points they scored and that's the best offense in the country. We were the better team today and that's the way it has to be. Offensively we did a good job, and we did what he had to do on our special teams. We made a game-changing play and that was the key to the whole game."

Case Keenum threw for 373 yards on 41-of-67 passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions for Houston (12-1), which lost for the first time this season and was denied the school's first BCS bowl-game bid.

"It was very devastating. I've been in this position twice now and it's not fun, and I told that to the younger guys," Keenum said."You've got to give credit to Southern Miss. They came in here to a hostile environment; that's as hostile as I've ever seen Robertson Stadium. Our fans did an incredible job. For them to come out and play in that kind of environment, you've got to hand it to them. They came to play. They're a heck of a football team, and they just beat us today."

Michael Hayes rushed 15 times for 50 yards and two touchdowns while Justin Johnson caught 12 passes for 171 yards and a two touchdowns.

Southern Mississippi struck first at the tail end of the first quarter. The Golden Eagles began their scoring drive with excellent field position at the Houston 37 thanks to a shanked 20-yard punt by Richie Leone.

On the first play of the drive, Davis connected with Lampley for 11 yards and three plays later, the Golden Eagles converted a huge 3rd-and-4 with a six- yard pass to Kelvin Bolden. They converted another third down -- this time a 3rd-and-10 -- with a 14-yard touchdown strike to Balentine to cap a seven-play drive and take a 7-0 lead..

Southern Mississippi extended its lead to 14-0 two minutes into the second quarter with another quick scoring drive, this one starting from the Houston 36.

Davis connected with Quentin Pierce on a 20-yard strike on second down to bring the ball to the Cougars 16 and on the next play, Davis found a wide open Lampley, who had drifted out of the backfield and was unaccounted for on a 16-yard touchdown pass.

Houston finally responded on its ensuing drive with an 11-play, 65-yard march, highlighted by a huge conversion on 4th-and-1 from the Golden Eagles 22. Keenum then connected with Johnson -- his sixth completion of the drive -- for a nine-yard touchdown strike to make it 14-7.

The Cougars found the end zone again on their next drive -- sparked by a 50- yard catch-and-run by Johnson all the way down to the one.

From there Hayes took the handoff and leapt over the pile of bodies and into the end zone to tie the game at 14 with 5:47 to play before halftime.

But, Southern Mississippi had an answer on its next possession, as Davis hooked up with Sullivan over the middle for a 69-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-14.

After the break, the Southern Mississippi special teams unit came up with an outstanding play. The Cougars lined up to punt on 4th-and-9 on their first possession of the second half, but Furious Bradley got to the punter untouched and blocked the kick, scooped up the loose ball and hustled 11 yards the other way for the touchdown to give the Golden Eagles a two-touchdown lead.

Just as Southern Mississippi's defense stepped up, the Cougars defense came up with a big play at the perfect time after Keenum was intercepted in the end zone.

Faced with a 3rd-and-9 on their own 21, Davis flipped a pass out to the left that was deflected and picked off by Phillip Steward and returned to the four- yard line.

Hayes then brought the Cougars to within one score with a four-yard touchdown sprint with under seven minutes to play in the third quarter.

But, again, Southern Mississippi had an answer on its next drive as Johnson broke a 17-yard touchdown run on 3rd-and-9 to cap an 11-play, 80-yard march.

Late in the third quarter, Southern Mississippi struck again courtesy of a 61- yard touchdown strike down the right sideline from Davis to Lampley to make it 42-21.

In the final quarter, Keenum was picked off by Ronnie Thornton, who brought it back 26 yards for the touchdown to make it 49-21, and Keenum connected with Johnson on a 13-yard touchdown strike with three seconds to play in regulation to account for the final margin.

Game Notes

Southern Miss leads the all-time series against Houston 9-5...Saturday's game marked the first time the Conference USA Championship game featured two ranked, 10-win teams...Southern Mississippi finished the season with eight interceptions returned for a touchdown...Keenum finished the season with 5,099 passing yards, eclipsing the 5,000 yard mark for the third time in his collegiate career...It was Houston's lowest offensive output of year, the previous low was 37 in a 37-7 win over Tulsa on November 19...Southern Miss last won the Conference USA title in 2003...The Golden Eagles have non offensive touchdowns in six of their last nine games.