October 9, 2010 11:54:00 PM
HATTIESBURG -- The East Carolina University football team did a lot of things wrong Saturday night, falling behind by 20 points in the first quarter and committing four turnovers on the road.
But with just enough clutch plays, the Pirates emerged with a 44-43 victory over Southern Miss at Roberts Stadium, breaking the Golden Eagles'' 11-game home winning streak in a Conference USA showdown.
Quarterback Dominique Davis completed a 32-yard pass to Michael Bowman for East Carolina''s go-ahead touchdown with 2:59 remaining. The Pirates, who have won back-to-back C-USA titles, have won 14 of 15 conference games.
"We''ve had to face adversity like this all year with a lot of young guys," first-year East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "These last few games we have hung tough. I''m really happy for our guys."
The teams combined for 24 penalties for 229 yards, and one player from each team was ejected.
Davis completed 18 of 36 passes for 305 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. The Pirates trailed 20-0 after the first quarter, but scored 17 unanswered points before halftime to make it 20-17.
Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis completed 20 of 39 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown. Danny Hrapmann kicked a school-record five field goals, including two from 49 yards.
Southern Miss dominated early, building a 20-0 lead in the first quarter. V.J. Floyd rushed for a 3-yard touchdown, Austin Davis threw for a 5-yard touchdown and Hrapmann nailed field goals from 49 and 39 yards as the Golden Eagles appeared to be in control.
But USM lost its momentum -- and its cool -- during the second quarter, as East Carolina scored 10 unanswered points. During that stretch, the Golden Eagles were called for four personal fouls and linebacker Korey Williams was ejected after throwing a punch during a sideline altercation.
The ill-advised behavior left USM -- which entered the game as the fourth-most penalized team in the country -- without two of its best defenders. Senior linebacker Martez Smith injured his knee in the first quarter and didn''t return.
Though neither team was particularly well-behaved, USM saw the majority of the flags, getting penalized 15 times for 153 yards.
"We had too many penalties, too many dropped balls and too many missed assignments," USM coach Larry Fedora said. "Most of them were after the play. I tried to calm them down constantly. Those penalties, those are the ones that are selfish and hurt the team."
The second half was just as wild as the first, with Southern Miss jumping out to a 27-17 lead on an 8-yard touchdown run by Davis.
But East Carolina roared back, scoring 21 of the next 24 points to take a 38-30 lead. Southern Miss wasn''t done, taking a 43-38 lead on linebacker Jamie Collins'' 32-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Finally, East Carolina set the final margin with Davis'' easy touchdown pass to a wide-open Bowman, who outran the Southern Miss defense to the end zone.