It wasn’t his first touchdown.
It wasn’t his first 100-yard game.
It wasn’t his first win at The Rock.
But Southern Miss junior Ito Smith, in running for an 86-yard touchdown late in the first quarter in a 56-0 victory over Savannah State, set a new record for the longest run in M.M. Roberts Stadium history on Saturday night.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
“I got the ball and think I got tangled up with a linebacker,” Smith said about his record breaker. “The offensive line did a good job blocking. Once I broke the tackle, I went around the end and (receiver) Isaiah Jones was out there blocking his butt off. He took out two guys, so that was big.”
The previous record of 84 yards was set by Southern Miss quarterback Reggie Collier in 1981.
That was before Smith was born, but all the Golden Eagles have seen the former No. 10’s photo on a wall in their newly refurbished locker room.
“Yeah, he came and had a long talk with us this summer,” Smith said about Collier.
Smith was surprised that he set a new stadium record, but first-year Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson wasn’t.
“Ito is a just a tremendous athlete,” Hopson said about his 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back. “He’s got great vision, he’s a competitor. Not only is he fast and quick but he’s a powerful back. You look at Ito, he might not be the biggest guy in the world but his punch and his power is tremendous.
“He’s a guy who plays hard every snap, just a great, great player, so it was a big play for us.”
Smith led the Golden Eagles in rushing Saturday night with 128 yards on eight carries, but George Payne also broke the 100-yard mark with 116 yards on 14 carries.
It was the second straight game that both have passed the century mark in rushing.
“They ran hard,” Hopson said. “Ito had a big play, a big run. He and George again, both of them ran hard. That’s something they’ve done all summer. They’ve carried that over to the first two games.”
It may not be a competition between the two backs from Mobile, Ala., but they pump each other up before each game.
“We tell each other before the game to go out there and ball, and leave it on the field,” Smith said.
As a true freshman, Smith ran for 100 yards two times. He averaged 3.94 yards per carry that season.
As a sophomore, Smith ran for 100 yards six times. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry that season in finishing with 1,128 yards rushing.
This year, Smith has carried the ball 44 times and has gained 301 yards, an average of 6.84 yards per carry.
He now has 10 100-yard games.
All that is fine, and when you break a 35-year-old record, held by one of the greatest players in Southern Miss history, it’s pretty special.
So does Smith celebrate his big games?
A simple answer.