Sparks flew in the fourth quarter in Starkville.
Southern Miss (3-8, 2-5) and Mississippi State (5-6, 1-6) traded home runs in the final minutes of a rare in-state bout between the two schools, and the Bulldogs escaped USM’s upset bid with a 41-20 win.
Golden Eagles wide receiver Jakarius Caston returned a kickoff 98 yards midway through the fourth quarter to cut MSU’s lead to six points.
But Bulldogs running back Jeffery Pittman answered with a 59-yard touchdown and a 67-yard pick-six to put a bow on MSU interim coach Greg Knox’s first win of the season. The Bulldogs fired Zach Arnett after last week’s 51-10 loss to Texas A&M.
Caston caught two passes for 88 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown pass on fourth down early in the fourth quarter, and was the spark for an offense that used both Billy Wiles and Ethan Crawford at quarterback.
The true freshman Crawford made his first career start and burned his redshirt with his fifth appearance of the season in the process.
Crawford led a five-play, 57-yard touchdown drive on the Eagles’ first possession, one that featured a 44-yard pass to Caston and ended in an eight-yard scoring pass to Frank Gore Jr.
Southern Miss will return home next week to face Sun Belt West champion Troy in the Golden Eagles’ final game of the year.
“The sky is the limit honestly,” linebacker Swayze Bozeman said about the state of the program under coach Will Hall to USM radio radio. “Coach Hall has a great thing going on. Hopefully next Saturday we can send our seniors out the right way. That one is going to be special.”
USM’s finale will kick at 11 a.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU.