It all slips away
Southern Miss costs No. 9 TCU a shot at BCS, C-USA title with 40-28 win
Posted: Friday November 21, 2003 12:39AM; Updated: Friday November 21, 2003 2:08AM
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) -- TCU can forget about the BCS.
Any debate about whether the 10th-ranked Horned Frogs belonged in a major bowl ended Thursday night when their frantic, fourth-quarter rally failed in a 40-28 loss to Southern Mississippi.
"We tried to live a dream but we came up just a little bit short," TCU coach Gary Patterson said.
Dustin Almond threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns and the Golden Eagles capitalized on four turnovers to hand TCU its first loss of the season.
Top-ranked Oklahoma is the only undefeated team left in Division I-A.
TCU was eighth in the Bowl Championship Series standings this week. The Horned Frogs needed to stay unbeaten to have any shot of becoming the first school from a non-BCS league to receive an invite to one of the four big-money bowls.
Now, the best they can hope for is a piece of the Conference USA title and a spot in one of five bowls with league ties.
That's a difference of about $13 million.
"When you come to somebody else's house to win a championship you can't turn the ball over and you can't give up big plays," Patterson said.
"I'm proud of my kids with the way they came back in the fourth quarter and fought back after they got themselves down and just about pulled it off," he said.
TCU (10-1, 7-1) trailed by 31-6 early in the fourth quarter before scoring three touchdowns in a span of 4:30 with the aid of two straight recovered onside kicks.
Brandon Hassell led the comeback attempt with his passing and running. He swept around right end for a 1-yard TD with 6:55 left, then threw for the 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 31-28.
Hassell finished 18-for-31 for 260 yards with two interceptions.
Southern Mississippi (8-3, 7-0) clinched at least a share of the league title and can win it outright with a victory over East Carolina.
The Golden Eagles blunted TCU's comeback bid by kicking a field goal to make it 34-28. Then they put the game away by forcing TCU's final turnover of the game.
Greg Brooks got free on a corner blitz and knocked the ball from Hassell. Rod Davis recovered at the TCU 11 with less than three minutes left. Moments later, Anthony Harris bulled into the end zone from 2 yards out with 1:30 left.
"Like our guys have done so many times before, when the game was on the line we found a way to make some plays when we had to," Golden Eagles coach Jeff Bower, who has led Southern Miss to three previous C-USA titles.
Southern Miss has won five straight games and can earn a bid to the Liberty Bowl by winning at East Carolina on Nov. 29. The Pirates have won just once.
The win was the Golden Eagles' first ever against a ranked opponent at home, and the fans celebrated by taking down a goal post.
"We went through hard times this season," Davis said. "We were 3-3. People shoved us away. We kept fighting."
Almond, who has thrown 12 TD passes since regaining the starting job five games ago, was 14-for-23 with an interception.
Southern Miss jumped out to a 24-6 lead with the help of three big plays -- one by the offense, one by the defense and one by special teams.
The offense was first up as Almond and DaRon Lawrence took advantage of a fallen TCU defender for a 50-yard touchdown pass that made it 7-3 in the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter the Golden Eagles' defense struck. Etric Pruitt picked off Hassell's throw deep down the middle and returned it 32 yards to the Horned Frogs 24.
Five plays later, Harris spun out of the pile, just barely keeping his knee off the ground, and dived across the goal line for a 1-yard TD to make it 17-6.
Marvin Young capped the outburst with a 52-yard punt return TCU's 33.
That set up Almond's 9-yard TD pass through traffic to Anwton Courington.
It marked just the second time this season TCU was down at halftime and by far the biggest deficit the Horned Frogs have faced at any point this season.
Almond's third TD pass -- a 21-yarder to Young -- made it 31-6 late in the third quarter, but TCU wouldn't let its 12-game winning streak die without a fight.
Kenny Hayter capped two short drives with 1-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter for TCU, and Reggie Harrell had seven catches for 108 yards.
"In the second half we came back but we needed a lot more," said Robert Merrill, who ran for 132 yards on 16 carries. "We needed this win but we fell short."