Video: Southern Miss celebrates C-USA West title
RUSTON, La. - Saturday's 58-24 victory over Louisiana Tech will be a source for the Southern Miss highlight reel for years to come, but one play overshadowed them all.
Southern Miss receiver Mike Thomas reached as high as he possibly could with one hand to pull in a pass in the left corner of the end zone and managed to get one foot down as he fell to the ground.
The jaw-dropping touchdown gave Southern Miss a 21-3 lead with 10:06 left in the first half.
The fan standing behind that corner of the end zone could be seen covering his mouth in disbelief.
USM sophomore running back Ito Smith had a clear view as Thomas barely got his foot down for the catch.
He was the first man there to congratulate Thomas after the 7-yard reception.
"Man, you ready for the league," Smith told the receiver.
Thomas said he knew the ball was coming his way when he glanced at junior quarterback Nick Mullens before the snap.
"Me and Nick caught each other's eyes," said Thomas, wearing his C-USA West title T-shirt. "He gave me the signal and then I was like, 'Yes.' The defender played heavy inside and he threw it back shoulder. I went up with the hand. Y'all seen what happened. I don't have to say too much."
Video of the catch immediately made the rounds on social media.
Mullens keeps giving Thomas chances to make plays downfield and he continues to take advantage.
"He always tells me to trust him," Mullens said. "He was one on one so I gave him a chance. It was almost a bad throw, but he bailed me out."
The Thomas catch was just one of numerous reasons for the 3,000 Southern Miss fans in attendance to get on their feet.
The USM fans were a boisterous group in a crowd of 19,028 at Joe Aillet Stadium.
The win served as a reward for a fan base that had grown more accustomed to defeat over the three previous seasons.
USM head coach Todd Monken and his players were grateful for the nice showing by Golden Eagle fans in Ruston, La.
"It's awesome, unbelievable to have that many people drive over," Monken said. "They were loud and it was great to to have that many band members on the week of Thanksgiving. I promise you, that played a big part in the team's success. To get that kind of backing, that's why I want to be head coach here."
USM can now turn its focus to a Western Kentucky team that's 10-2 and widely considered the best team in C-USA. The two teams will play at 11 a.m. on Dec. 5 in Bowling Green, Ky., for the C-USA championship.
Mullens happened to be in attendance the last time USM and WKU played a game in 2012. He was in Bowling Green when the Hilltoppers thumped USM 42-17.
Mullens was there to check out WKU while he was still in high school at Spain Park in Hoover, Ala.
That loss to WKU was one of many low points in Ellis Johnson's lone season as the USM head coach.
"It's cool to look back and see how far we've come," Mullens said.