In the end, it was No. 22 Southern Miss that marched down the field in the closing minutes and took down Nevada 24-17.
Southern Miss trekked 71 yards and went up by the final seven-point margin when quarterback Austin Davis scrambled to the left and connected with Kelvin Bolden for a 4-yard touchdown with 5:48 to play.
Davis, who has broken many of Brett Favre’s records at USM, was mostly ineffective Saturday at Aloha Stadium, completing 18 of 41 passes for a meager 165 yards.
Nevada (7-6) still had a chance to answer, but was stifled on a fourth-and-1 play at midfield with under four minutes remaining.
Both offenses looked like they hadn’t gotten off the beach in the first 15 minutes of play, so Southern Miss turned to its special teams to break the scoreless tie.
Tim Green went over the top of blockers and stopped a Nevada punt in the end zone. Tray Becton Martin pounced on the loose ball for a touchdown, less than a minute into the second quarter.
The Wolf Pack built some momentum by starting the ensuing drive with a 25-yard run by Lampford Mark. Nevada turned to Mark again when it had to convert a fourth-and-1 play to keep its drive going just outside the Golden Eagles’ red zone.
It was only fitting that Mark capped the 81-yard touchdown drive by scampering into the end zone from 5 yards out, tying the game at 7-7 with 7:45 to play in the first half. Mark went over 100 yards rushing for the sixth straight game during that drive and finished with 181 yards on 29 carries.
Mark continued his dominance on Nevada’s next drive after another Southern Miss punt. Mark busted through the line and scored on a 45-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 Wolf Pack lead.
The Golden Eagles looked like they were about to swing momentum back to their side, but disaster struck on the kickoff. Jeremy Hester broke free for a huge return and only had one player to beat in Nevada territory. However, Nevada’s Khalid Wooten tracked him down from behind and stripped Hester of the ball. Thaddeus Brown recovered the fumble and returned it to the Pack 36.
While the sudden turnover stunned Southern Miss, the defense didn’t put its head down and sulk. Instead, it forced a turnover on downs and the offense took over at the Nevada 44 with about three minutes left in the first half.
Again, the offense couldn’t get going though and the Golden Eagles had to settle for a 48-yard Danny Hrapmann field goal with 1:21 left in the first half.
Then it was Southern Miss’s turn to turn the tide on a kickoff. Ironically, Wooten was drilled on his return and coughed up the ball at the Nevada 24, which was recovered by the Golden Eagles’ Emmanuel Johnson with 1:10 on the clock.
The Conference USA champion got exactly what it needed when Tracy Lampley hauled in a 2-yard touchdown pass from Davis with 12 seconds on the clock. Nevada helped its opponent take a 17-14 halftime lead by committing two defensive holding penalties during the short drive. The Golden Eagles also picked up a first down on fourth-and-1.
Nevada outgained Southern Miss 236-109 in the first half.
Hrapmann missed a 48-yard field wide right early in the third quarter. He pushed a 50-yarder wide right on the Golden Eagles’ first possession of the game also.
Another huge mistake proved costly for Southern Miss. A collision during a fair-catch call on a punt, caused the ball to bounce off Lampley’s foot, allowing Nevada’s Brandon Marshall to recover it at the USM 14.
The Wolf Pack tried to switch up things by bringing in senior Tyler Lantrip at quarterback, but he had just as much luck as freshman Cody Fajardo. Nevada tied it at 17-17 on a 37-yard field goal by Allen Hardison at the 2:44 mark of the third, but didn’t score again in the second half.