Southern Miss had to sweat out a 26-20 victory over lower-tier subdivision, intrastate rival Alcorn State Saturday night. But when a program has celebrated just one win over its last 25 games, any win is a good win.
"You never get tired of winning," said second-year USM coach Todd Monken, whose first edition of the Golden Eagles snapped the program's 23-game losing streak with a win in the 2013 season finale.
"I thought our guys showed a lot of resiliency in the end, especially on the defensive end, coming up with two big stops. I'm not sure we would have done that last year."
Corey Acosta kicked a career-best four field goals and quarterback Nick Mullen threw for two touchdowns for the Golden Eagles (1-1), who scored their first points of the season after being shut out by Mississippi State in the season opener.
Southern Miss got 118 yards rushing on 32 carries from freshman running back Ito Smith as the Golden Eagles rushed for 207 yards and put up 415 total yards.
It was the first time that Southern Miss had reached the 200-yard rushing plateau in Monken's tenure and only the third time his offense had hit the 400-yard mark for total offense.
But Alcorn State (1-1), which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, had its upset bid dashed when Jomez Applewhite picked off a John Gibbs pass with 57 seconds to play.
"We knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle," said Alcorn State coach Jay Hopson, who was an assistant and defensive coordinator at USM in the 2000s. "We expected a hard-fought battle. We talked to our kids going in. We said this is going to be a fourth quarter game. We thought we could win it. We fought hard, but the chips didn't fall right for us in the end."
Gibbs rushed for 161 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries, while running back Darryan Ragsdale rushed for 111 yards as Alcorn piled up 295 yards of its 393 yards on the ground.
Gibbs added another 94 yards passing but was intercepted twice. The Braves also lost a fumble and muffed a punt leading to USM scores.
Mullens, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 208 yards, threw touchdown passes of 7 yards to James Cox and 38 yards to Marquise Ricard in the second quarter.
Acosta hit a 50-yard field goal for the only score of the first quarter, and tacked on a 39-yard field goal with 9 seconds left in the first half.
Gibbs ran 33 yards for the Braves' only score before halftime.
Southern Miss led 20-7 at halftime, as Alcorn hurt itself in the first half with six penalties for minus 74 yards.
"I thought we gave them some stuff on penalties that helped them," Hopson said. "You can't do that against a good opponent."
Zerick Rollins Jr. threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Casey Freeman to cut it to 23-13 at the start of the fourth quarter. After Acosta's fourth field goal of the day made it 26-13, Alcorn's Anthony Williams scored on a 5-yard run to make it a one-score game with 7:32 left to play.
Alcorn State had two more chances to tie. The Braves drove to the Southern Miss 39 before Emmanuel Johnson broke up a fourth-down pass to end the drive with 1:29 to play.
Southern Miss only took 27 seconds off the clock on three running plays, though, and punted to Alcorn State with 1:02 to play. But Applewhite picked off Gibbs on the first play of Alcorn's final possession to seal the victory.
"It was awesome," Mullens said. "Coach said, no matter who the opponent, a win is a win, and we are very thankful for that."