Southern Miss 28 – TCU 21

MOBILE AL (AP) Jeff Kelly’s 29-yard touchdown pass to freshman Kenny Johnson with eight seconds left lifted Southern Mississippi to a 28-21 victory over Texas Christian (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) in the Mobile Alabama Bowl on Wednesday night.

That saved Bower from canceling a redshirt year for placekicker 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.

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.

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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.

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.