NEW ORLEANS — Larry Fedora was one loss away from being the first Southern Mississippi coach to have a losing season in 15 years.
He needn’t worry about that now.
Michael McGee blocked a potential game-tying field goal in overtime, and the Golden Eagles beat Troy 30-27 in the New Orleans Bowl on Sunday night to close their season on a five-game winning streak.
Southern Miss (7-6) needed the first four wins to qualify for a bowl and the last one to extend the school’s streak of consecutive winning seasons to 15.
“All the guys that were here before we got here who started that 15 years ago, we owed it to them to make sure we got it done tonight,” said Fedora, who is in his first season at Southern Miss. “That was probably a little extra motivation for everybody.”
The Trojans (8-5), winners of the Sun Belt Conference, led 27-17 after Jerrel Jernigan’s 6-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Southern Miss began a stirring comeback when its defense dropped Troy running back DuJuan Harris for a loss on fourth-and-1 at the Golden Eagles 39. On the ensuing drive, Austin Davis rolled out on fourth-and-2 and lofted a 35-yard touchdown to tight end Jonathan Massey, cutting the Trojans lead to 27-24 with 7:20 left in regulation.
Barefoot tied it with his 46-yard field goal with 2:50 to go.
Troy held Southern Miss to Britt Barefoot’s 39-yard field goal on the first possession of OT, but that wound up being enough for the Golden Eagles to win their third New Orleans Bowl in three appearances.
McGee knifed in from the left end, diving as he smothered Sam Glusman’s 28-yard kick.
“I was trying my best to get there and by the time I got 3 yards away from the ball, I didn’t see nobody trying to block down on me, so I just dove and gave it my all,” McGee said.
Troy’s Levi Brown was 26-of-43 for 255 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kennard Burton. Troy never trailed until overtime, and after this game, the Trojans had to be happy to get out of Louisiana, where one of their most crushing losses came in mid-November.
“We played LSU earlier this year and blew a 28-point lead. After that, we knew nothing’s in hand until the game’s over,” Brown said. “I expected it to be a close game and I was thrilled to be up 10 in the fourth, but we couldn’t finish it.”
Jernigan had nine catches for 65 yards, breaking a 40-year-old Troy record for single-season receptions. He finished with 77 catches on the year, passing Danny Grant, who caught 72 passes in 1968.
A lousy start preceded Southern Miss’ fantastic finish. When the game began, the Golden Eagles were penalized the loss of a timeout because they wore all-gold uniforms, defying orders that they wear white jerseys as the designated visiting team. They committed a false start while lining up for their first offensive play. Two plays later, Troy took a 7-0 lead on a defensive touchdown as Jorrick Calvin batted down Davis’ lateral, then scooped it up for a 17-yard fumble return.