Kwadra Gibbs completed 20 of his 27 passes for 221 yards and a score, Ito Smith rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns, and the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (7-4, 5-2) simply could not stop scoring on the way to a 66-21 win over the Charlotte 49ers (1-10, 1-6). Smith, who got tallied his yardage on only 15 carries, was followed in the backfield column by Tez Parks, who rushed for 91 yards and a score. The USM backfield racked up 373 rushing yards, and the offense cranked out 594 total yards.
Hasaan Klugh passed for 96 yards and one touchdown and rushed for another, and Benny LeMay rushed for 45 yards and a score for Charlotte. TL Ford II led the receiving corps with three receptions for 50 yards and the final touchdown. Linebacker Jeff Gemmell led the defense with 13 total tackles, and Ed Rolle flanked him with eight.
“We couldn’t handle them up front defensively,” Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said. “We couldn’t block them. They got after us pretty good in our run game. And then, you know, we gave up some big plays down the stretch, so give them credit.”
The defense was strong enough for the 49ers in the first quarter, as they held the USM offense to just two field goals after two three and outs. But in between those field goals, USM’s Kelsey Douglas’ recorded his first pick-six of the day, returning it 52 yards to the house. Just like that, the Golden Eagles were up 21-0 after one.
In the second quarter, the Golden Eagles kept rolling, as Ito Smith got hot. Smith scored his first touchdown of the day on a one-yard run, and Douglas’ got his second pick-six of the day less than two minutes later. LeMay scored the first Niner points on a 11-yard rush at the 10 minute mark to cut the deficit 27-7, but the celebration was short lived. Smith got into the endzone again at the 3:30 mark, and a field goal at the halftime buzzer gave USM a 38-7 halftime lead.
While the defense was the main spark for USM in the first half, the offense began racking up big plays in the second half. Griggs found receiver Korey Robertson for a 45-yard touchdown pass at the 12 minute mark, and Smith scooted into the endzone at the 8:48 mark for his final score on an 80-yard rush. Klugh finally scored on a 10-yard rush on fourth down for the Niners with less than five minutes remaining, but Charlotte went into the fourth frame down 52-14.
In the fourth quarter, Parks scored his touchdown on a two-yard rush after a 10 play, 84-yard drive. Klugh found Ford II for a 19-yard touchdown pass with 4:17 remaining, but USM scored again with 2:35 left, this time by T-Rod Daniels. That score provided the final margin of 66-21.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and see what’s going on offensively and defensively, and try to make sure we’ve got guys in the right place and put them in a position to be successful,” Lambert said. “We go back to work tomorrow and try to get us a gameplan.”
Charlotte’s final game of the season will be at home next Saturday on Senior Day. The 49ers will face the Owls of Florida Atlantic at 2 p.m.