Just for kicks
Eagles avenge missed FGs, down TCU on late TD pass
Updated: Thursday December 21, 2000 7:21 AM
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- It turns out Jeff Bower didn't have to trust a kicking game that had let him down all night.
Jeff Kelly's 29-yard touchdown pass to freshman Kenny Johnson with eight seconds left lifted Southern Mississippi to a 28-21 victory over No. 13 Texas Christian in the Mobile Alabama Bowl on Wednesday night.
That saved Bower from canceling a redshirt year for place-kicker Curtis Jones for one last attempt after four missed field goals.
"Thank goodness we scored a touchdown," Bower said. "It's a great way to end up the year."
The Golden Eagles (8-4) had lost three of their last four games entering the first major bowl game of the season. They won the showdown with the only defense in the nation rated higher than them and held All-American LaDanian Tomlinson to his lowest rushing total of the season.
Tomlinson, a Heisman Trophy finalist who led the nation in rushing the past two seasons, ran for 118 yards on 28 carries and scored two TDs in the third quarter for the Horned Frogs (10-2).
With 33 seconds left, the Golden Eagles took over at the TCU 43-yard line after Mobile native Etric Pruitt got a hand on Mark Haulman's punt.
Kelly wasn't surprised at the second chance.
"Our defense has been making plays for us all season," said Kelly, who was 11-of-23 for 159 yards and three TDs. "We just told them on the sideline, 'We want one more shot.' "
Kelly threw two incompletions, then scrambled 14 yards for a first down on the final drive. On the next play, he lofted a perfect strike over the middle just above safety LaVar Veale's outstretched arm, victimizing the nation's top defense.
TCU failed to reach midfield on the ensuing kick return.
"There weren't many people who gave us a chance to even stay on the field with the No. 1 defense in the country," Kelly said. "We made up our minds at halftime we were going to come out and cut loose."
The Horned Frogs endured a December coaching change and uncertainty over who would lead them into the game. In the end, former defensive coordinator Gary Patterson replaced Dennis Franchione on the sidelines.
Franchione left for Alabama Dec. 1 and was initially expected to coach the bowl game. TCU officials decided late last week to allow the Patterson era to begin a season early.
Franchione watched from the press box.
"It's been wild," Patterson said. "[The assistants] really did a great job of preparing for the ballgame with everything going on."
Quarterback Casey Printers wouldn't use that distraction as an excuse.
"[The coaches] gave us the opportunity to win the game," said Printers, who was 10-of-22 for 115 yards with two interceptions. "They called the right plays, we just didn't execute."
Kelly had a big fourth quarter. He was 7-of-15 for 40 yards after three quarters.
Then, he hit LeRoy Handy on a 56-yard TD strike with 7:24 left, tying it at 21. Kelly also hit Handy, who had missed the past three years with a shoulder injury, on a 9-yarder in the third quarter.
Tomlinson had a previous low of 119 yards against Tulsa.
"He got his yards but we held him to a minimum," said Southern Miss safety Leo Barnes, who returned an interception 50 yards for a TD in the first quarter. It was his fourth interception return for a score of the season.
Southern Miss had two chances for a go-ahead score with just over two minutes left. For the fourth time, Brant Hanna kicked a low line drive, this one a 32-yarder that failed to clear TCU's defensive line.
It was the second block of the night for the junior, who was 12-of-18 in the regular season. That prompted Bowers to tell Johnson, a junior college transfer, he would get his first shot if necessary.
"It was a tough night for Brant, but Brant's won a lot of games for us and he's been a heck of a field goal kicker," Bower said. "I asked Curt, 'Will you take that redshirt off to win this football game?' He said, 'Yeah, coach.'"
TCU couldn't get a first down against the nation's second-rated defense, which held the Horned Frogs to 265 yards and set up a pair of TDs with interceptions.
Backup Southern Miss tailback Kelby Nance outshined Tomlinson, carrying 16 times for 104 yards. It was the first career 100-yard game for the senior, who started the season as a third-teamer.