Hilltoppers ground Golden Eagles in key C-USA road matchup, pick up 7th win

WKU redshirt junior defensive tackle Jeremy Darvin (53) sacks Southern Miss redshirt junior quarterback Jack Abraham (15) while WKU junior defensive end DeAngelo Malone (10) lunges for the loose football in M.M. Roberts Stadium on Nov. 23, 2019, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. WKU won 28-10. 

Alec Jessie

The WKU football team (7-4, 5-2 C-USA) blew out Conference USA opponent Southern Mississippi (7-4, 5-2 C-USA) on Saturday, as the Hilltoppers collected 365 yards of total offense during a 28-10 road win in M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The Hilltoppers opened up a two-game winning streak in a tough road environment, knocking off a Southern Miss squad that had posted a 9-1 record at home over the past two seasons.

“A great team win for our guys, just really proud for them,” head coach Tyson Helton said in a release. This is a tough place to come play and get a win, against a very good football team. We just beat a really good football team. In my eyes, this was kind of the biggest win of the season for us. It’s really tough to come to a place like Southern Miss and get a good victory. Really happy for our guys.”

The Golden Eagles accumulated 388 yards of total offense, but the WKU defense forced three turnovers in critical moments to keep Southern Miss from flying into the end zone.

Graduate transfer quarterback Ty Storey completed 20-of-30 passes for 225 yards, passing for two touchdowns.

Redshirt junior receiver Jahcour Pearson caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, while redshirt junior running back Gaej Walker ran for 84 yards on his 20 carries.

Freshman kicker Cory Munson was 0 for 1 on field goal attempts.

Redshirt junior quarterback Jack Abraham completed 16-of-31 passes for 223 yards for the Golden Eagles, passing for one touchdown and an interception.

Southern Miss was led on the ground by senior receiver De’Michael Harris, as he rushed 11 times for 60 yards. Junior receiver Tim Jones led the Golden Eagles in receiving with seven receptions for 159 yards and a touchdown.

The Golden Eagles outgained the Hilltoppers in almost every major statistical category, but the 134 rushing yards posted by the WKU offense helped keep the clock rolling late. WKU also went 2 for 3 on fourth-down conversions and stayed on the field when necessary.

“The turnovers — we harp on that every day,” junior cornerback Dionté Ruffin said in a release. “We practice it every day, we do strip attempts, get as many interceptions as you can. Today, we put it all together and we made it happen.”

Southern Miss won the opening coin toss, elected to defer and WKU received the opening kickoff.

Walker got the WKU offense going with a couple big runs, moving the Hilltoppers to midfield. 

Redshirt senior receiver Quin Jernighan continued to move the sticks for WKU, getting into Golden Eagle territory with a 12-yard catch. Pearson converted a third down with a 6-yard reception that moved to the Southern Miss 31-yard line.

Storey converted a quarterback sneak to convert a third down. Junior receiver Jacquez Sloan took a jet sweep 21 yards to the house on the next play, putting WKU up 7-0 with 9:03 left in the first quarter.

The WKU defense started strong, forcing a three-and-out. The Hilltoppers began their second drive at their own 16-yard line.

Freshman tight end Joshua Simon grabbed a big 47-yard catch to get WKU down to the Golden Eagle 25-yard line.

WKU couldn’t convert a fourth down on a fake field goal attempt, and Southern Miss then took over on its own 17-yard line.

Southern Miss quickly got on the board with a 68-yard pass from Abraham to Jones. The game was then tied 7-7 with 4:31 left in the first quarter.

WKU couldn’t respond and was forced to punt on its next possession. Southern Miss then took over at its own 25-yard line.

A face mask gave the Golden Eagles a first down, but a tackle for loss from junior defensive end DeAngelo Malone forced a punt. WKU began its next possession at its own 7-yard line.

Jernighan gave WKU some breathing room with a 9-yard reception for a first down, stretching the WKU drive into the second quarter.

The WKU offense stalled out from there, and was forced to punt. Southern Miss began its next drive at its own 37-yard line.

Southern Miss couldn’t muster up any offense on its drive, and the Golden Eagles also had to punt the ball away. WKU then took over on its own 36-yard line.

The Hilltoppers took no time to score, as Pearson took a pass from Storey 64 yards into the end zone. WKU then led 14-7 with 12:07 left in the half.

Malone recorded a sack to back up the Golden Eagle offense, and the Hilltopper defense got off the field. But a muffed punt gave Southern Miss the ball back at the WKU 44-yard line.

Senior receiver Neil McLaurin made a couple of first down receptions to get Southern Miss into the red zone, but the Golden Eagle drive took a turn for the worst shortly thereafter.

Ruffin forced a fumble from redshirt junior receiver Quez Watkins near the goal line. Junior cornerback Trae Meadows recovered the loose ball and returned it to 46 yards to the WKU 47-yard line.

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Golden Eagles moved the ball even further, and WKU began its possession at the Southern Miss 38-yard line.

Jernighan wasted no time, extending the WKU lead with a 21-yard touchdown. WKU led then 21-7 with 5:02 left in the half.

Harris got the Golden Eagles moving with a 17-yard rush to pick up a first down. Watkins picked up a first down with a 12-yard reception up to the Southern Miss 42-yard line, and he continued his success with more receptions to get into WKU territory.

After the Southern Miss drive stalled out, freshman kicker Andrew Stein couldn’t convert a 44-yard field goal. WKU still led 21-7 with 45 seconds left in the half.

WKU ran out the remaining clock time in the first half, nursing a 21-7 lead into the break.

The Golden Eagles accumulated 187 yards of total offense during the opening half, while WKU gained 275.

Storey completed 15-of-24 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Walker ran for 39 yards on his 10 carries. Pearson caught three passes for 78 yards and one touchdown.

Abraham completed 9-of-15 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown. Harris rushed seven times for 49 yards, while Jones caught two passes for 73 yards.

Southern Miss received the second-half kickoff after winning the opening toss and electing to defer.

Junior safety Antwon Kincade continued the strong defensive performance for WKU, snatching a Southern Miss interception out of the air. WKU then took over at its own 38-yard line.

Person picked up a first down at midfield with a 7-yard reception, but WKU couldn’t muster up much else and was forced to punt. The Golden Eagles took over at their own 11-yard line.

Abraham ran 10 yards for a first down to get Southern Miss moving. Senior receiver Trevor Terry moved the ball close to midfield on a 20-yard reception, but the drive stalled.

Southern Miss tried a fake punt on a fourth-and-9 play, but the Golden Eagles couldn’t convert. 

WKU took over at midfield after the turnover on downs. The Hilltoppers punted after a quick three-and-out, and Southern Miss then took over at its own 9-yard line.

The Golden Eagles also went three-and-out yet and Southern Miss was quickly forced to punt it back to the Hilltoppers. WKU took over at its own 39-yard line.

WKU returned the favor with a three-and-out of its own and was forced to punt again.

Watkins picked up a Southern Miss first down to end the third quarter, finally getting the Golden Eagle offense moving again heading into the fourth frame.

Kincade appeared to score another WKU touchdown on a fumble recovery to open the final period, but the call was overturned to an incomplete pass by Southern Miss.

Abraham then picked up a first down on a QB draw play and Watkins picked up more ground on a 28-yard reception that moved Southern Miss into Hilltopper territory.

An 18-yard reception from Jones got the Golden Eagles into the red zone, but the drive stalled shortly thereafter. Southern Miss went for it on a fourth-and-1 play, but WKU got a key stop.

The Hilltoppers couldn’t muster up any offense and were forced to punt. Southern Miss began its drive on its own 11-yard line, but the WKU defense stepped up big time and halted the Golden Eagles.

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Jeremy Darvin sacked Abraham for a loss of 6 yards to the Southern Miss 5-yard line. Abraham fumbled during the sack, Malone picked up the loose football and the Atlanta native took it into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown.

After the defensive score, WKU led 28-7 with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter.

Southern Miss turned the football over on downs during its ensuing drive, and WKU took over once again at the Golden Eagle 45-yard line.

A crucial 30-yard rush from Walker took the Hilltoppers to the Southern Miss 12-yard line.

WKU couldn’t punch it in, so Helton called on Munson for a field goal attempt. The freshman couldn’t convert a 29-yard try, and Southern Miss took over again at its own 20-yard line.

Southern Miss made a change at quarterback on its next drive, putting sophomore Tate Whatley in at signal caller.

Jones made a big 35-yard catch to get into WKU territory, and Stein later finished off the drive with a 22-yard field goal. WKU led 28-10 with 1:52 left in the game.

WKU ran out the remaining clock time, and the Hilltoppers claimed a crucial 18-point win on the road.

Following the win, WKU will return home to conclude the 2019 regular season against rival Middle Tennessee State (3-7, 2-4 C-USA) next weekend.

The Hilltoppers will be back in action against the Blue Raiders in Houchens-Smith Stadium for Senior Day next Saturday.

Kickoff is currently set for 1 p.m. on Nov. 30.

The game will be streamed live for ESPN+ subscribers.

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.