MOBILE, Alabama (Ticker) -- Jeff Kelly threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Kenneth Johnson with eight seconds left as Southern Mississippi stunned Texas Christian, 28-21, in the Mobile Alabama Bowl.
Kelly almost singlehandedly rallied the Golden Eagles (8-4) from a 21-14 deficit, tossing a 56-yard TD pass to Leroy Handy earlier in the fourth quarter. Kelly and Handy also hooked up for a nine-yard TD in the third period.
"Going into the game, there weren't that many people that wanted to give us a chance," Kelly said. "We were on the field with the No. 1 defense in the county but we had a lot of guys that don't ever give up. We made up our minds at halftime that we were gonna go out and cut it loose."
The loss spoiled the head coaching debut of Gary Patterson, who was promoted from defensive coordinator when Dennis Franchione took the Alabama job.
"I take my hat off to the (TCU) players and coaches that were here," Patterson said. "They did a good job of preparing for the ballgame with everything that went on."
The defeat also marked a bitter end to the career of Heisman Trophy finalist LaDainian Tomlinson, who scored on TD runs of seven and 33 yards in the third quarter to give TCU (10-2) a 21-14 lead.
Tomlinson led the nation in rushing for the second straight season with 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns on 369 carries. He got off to a slow start tonight but finished with 118 yards on 28 carries.
"(He's) really good," Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower said. "Everything I thought he was, quick, strong. He was tough to tackle."
Southern Mississippi missed a chance to take the lead with 2:08 remaining when Brant Hanna's 37-yard field goal barely got off the ground and was blocked by the middle of the TCU line. Hanna also missed three field goals.
The game appeared headed for overtime as the Horned Frogs were content to run out the clock. But defensive back Etric Pruitt partially blocked Kelly O'Connor's punt, allowing the Golden Eagles to take over in TCU territory with 33 seconds to play.
"We took care of the football and we had no turnovers in the game," Bower said. "It might be the best ballgame we have played, when you consider that we did not turn the ball over and we did not have many negative plays."
Kelly kept the drive alive by scrambling for a first down to the TCU 29 with 14 seconds left. On the next play, he hit a wide-open Johnson over the middle for the winning score.
"We had big plays and it was a great, great job by Jeff Kelly," Bower said. "I thought he showed a lot of poise. I'm really proud of this football team. We really practiced hard for this game. I couldn't be happier about our football team, especially our seniors."
TCU opened the scoring on Casey Printers' three-yard TD pass to George Layne with 7:51 left in the first quarter. The Golden Eagles tied it 1:43 later on Leo Barnes' 50-yard interception.
After the first half was dominated by defense, the offenses came alive in the third quarter. Kelly, who completed 11-of-23 for 159 yards, gave Southern Miss a 14-7 lead just 1:54 into the second half when he found Handy for the first of his three TD strikes.
Printers completed 10-of-22 for 115 yards and two interceptions for the Horned Frogs. Kelly Nance ran for 104 yards on 16 carries to pace the Golden Eagles' ground attack.
Southern Miss was appearing in its fourth straight boal game.
"It's like I told our seniors," Bower said. "You always want to leave the program better than the previous senior class and the foundation of this program is stronger than its ever been."