For the first time in over three decades, the Louisiana-Monroe football team marched out of Roberts Stadium with a victory.
ULM linebacker Cortez Sisco Jr. intercepted Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham with 7 seconds remaining to close out a 21-20 victory for the Warhawks.
It marked the first time that ULM (2-0) has won in Hattiesburg since former San Diego Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries was behind center for Northeastern Louisiana in a 34-24 game in 1987. USM holds a 4-2 all-time advantage in the series.
Brett Favre and Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson, a former ULM standout, served as honorary captains for Saturday’s contest. Favre was the quarterback on the USM squad that lost to Northeastern Louisiana in 1987.
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ULM quarterback Caleb Evans hooked up with Mississippi native Marcus Green on two touchdown tosses – one for 49 yards and the other from 4 yards out to give the Warhawks a 21-17 lead with 14:03 left in the third quarter.
USM kicker Parker Shaunfield missed a 49-yard field goal with 5:42 remaining that would have given the Golden Eagles the lead.
Shaunfield’s 47-yard field goal with 6:51 remaining accounted for all of USM’s points in the second half.
Evans hit 15 of 28 passes for 195 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran eight times for 39 yards.
Jack under pressure
Saturday marked the first time that Abraham faced significant heat in the pocket and it showed.
The Oxford native had plenty of time to find his receivers when he tossed four touchdowns against Jackson State in a 55-7 win in the opener. On Saturday, the USM offensive line often struggled to give Abraham sufficient time in the pocket.
“It’s always a combination. He’s starting to have his best game and offensively he got hit from behind. He got sacked a couple times and the bottom line is it’s never one mans fault,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said. “The quarterback always gets too much of the glory and too much of the blame. The statistics don’t look that bad, but we struggled offensively.”
The ULM defensive front had the upper hand on the USM offensive line for much of the night, regularly putting pressure on Abraham off the edges.
ULM had five sacks with a team high of two from Donald Louis Jr.
Abraham lost two fumbles and the first instance involved a blindside hit from defensive end Donald Louis Jr. that sent the ball into the USM end zone. ULM defensive lineman Sam Miller recovered the ball for the touchdown, tying the game at 7-7 with 12:05 left in the first quarter.
Abraham completed 31 of 46 passes for 378 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. His favorite target was Quez Watkins, who had 11 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Abraham’s first interception late in the first quarter was the result of a softly thrown pass that fell short of his intended target, Biloxi native Tim Jones.
USM (1-1) pushed the ball to the ULM 45 with 22 seconds remaining when Abraham moved to his right and threw back toward the middle of the field and into Sisco’s hands.
“I saw the linebacker blitz to the side and then the guy that picked it off kind of floated into that area,” Abraham said. “I tried throwing it quick, but he had me and made a good play. If I could take it back I would but it is what it is. We’ve just got to move on and play the next play.”
The USM offense continues to come up short in the ground game after having a slow start against Jackson State.
The Golden Eagles managed just 58 yards on 34 carries with senior Tez Parks leading the way with 42 yards on 17 rushes. USM’s rushing numbers were hurt by the -24 yards on 11 carries by Abraham.
“Yeah, we didn’t run the ball well, ain’t no doubt about it,” Hopson said. “That’s about an accurate of statement as you can. Again, we gotta be better than that. The bottom line is that they stuffed our run game and it’s something as coaches and players that we better come to work next week. We better get better there for sure.”
USM’s struggles in the ground game showed up at a crucial point when USM had 4th and 1 at ULM 47 with 12:58 remaining. Senior running back T’Rod Daniels was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, turning the ball over on downs.
A pair of well-regarded freshmen, Trivenskey Mosley and Steven Anderson, did play a snap on offense in Saturday’s contest. Freshman Darius Maberry was also held out as he attempts to return from a torn ACL in December.
Senior running back George Payne has yet to play this season after sitting out the 2017 campaign with a hip injury.
Jaylond Adams was a last minute steal for Southern Miss in the Class of 2017 and he’s looking more and more like star in the making.
The sophomore receiver appeared to be the quickest man on the field, accounting for 205 all-purpose yards.
Adams had a 75-yard touchdown via a shovel pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage and also had a 33-yard punt return. He caught nine passes for 158 yards.
Defense did enough
The USM defense put together a performance that usually results in a victory in Hattiesburg.
One of ULM’s touchdowns came on a fumble recovery on defense, meaning the Golden Eagles’ defense allowed just 14 points and 354 yards.
Senior nickelback Picasso Nelson showed that he has returned to full health after missing the 2017 season due to injury. He tied with Jeremy Sangster for the team lead in tackles with seven.
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Jacques Turner, a D’Iberville native, had a good rush off the edge, accounting for 1 ½ sacks.
A pair of USM safeties forced turnovers with Ky’el Hemby picking off a pass and D’Iberville native Tyler Barnes forcing a fumble.
Against a ULM offense that should be one of the better groups in the Sun Belt, the USM defense proved up to the challenge.
Big drop in attendance
Roberts Stadium saw a drop in attendance of nearly 10,000 from the season opener versus Jackson State.
The announced figure against JSU was 29,176. On Saturday against ULM, it was 19,579.
With Saturday’s disappointing loss, it’s hard to see USM improving on that crowd when Rice comes to Hattiesburg on Sept. 22.
USM faces a difficult road trip to Appalachian State on Sept. 15. The Mountaineers are 1-1 after losing 45-38 at Penn State in overtime and winning 45-9 on Saturday at Charlotte.