Golden Eagles Hold Off A Furious TCU Comeback To Claim A 40-28 Victory In C-USA Showdown

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) _ Dustin Almond threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns and the
Golden Eagles capitalized on four turnovers to hand the 10th-ranked Horned Frogs their first loss of the season, 40-28 on Thursday night.

Southern Mississippi (8-3, 7-0) clinched at least a share of the Conference USA title and can win it outright with a victory over East Carolina.

TCU (10-1, 7-1) trailed by 31-6 early in the fourth quarter before scoring three touchdowns in a span of 4:30 with the aid of two straight recovered onside kicks.

Brandon Hassell led the comeback attempt with his passing and running.

He swept around right end for a 1-yard TD with 6:55 left and then threw for the 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 31-28.

Hassell finished 18-for-31 for 260 yards.

Southern Miss kicked a field goal to make it 34-28, then put the game away by forcing TCU's final turnover of the game.

Greg Brooks got free on a corner blitz and knocked the ball from Hassell. Rod Davis recovered inside the TCU 20 with less than three minutes left and moments later Anthony Harris bulled into the end zone from 2 yards out to make it 40-28 with 1:30 left.

TCU was eighth in the Bowl Championship Series standings this week and needed to stay unbeaten to have any shot of becoming the first school from a non-BCS league to receive an invite to one of
the four high-dollar major bowls.

Now, the best the Horned Frogs can hope for is a piece of the league title and a spot in one of five bowls with C-USA ties.

Southern Miss, which has won five straight games, can earn a bid to the Liberty Bowl by beating one-win East Carolina next week.

Almond, who has thrown 12 TD passes since regaining the starting job five games ago, was 14-for-23 with an interception.

Southern Miss jumped out to a 24-6 lead with the help of three big plays _ one by the offense, one by the defense and one by special teams.

The offense was first up as Almond and DaRon Lawrence took advantage of a fallen TCU defender for a 50-yard touchdown pass that made it 7-3 in the first quarter.

Midway through the second quarter the Golden Eagles' defense struck. Etric Pruitt picked off Hassell's throw deep down the middle and returned it 32 yards to the Horned Frogs 24.

Five plays later, Harris spun out of the pile, just barely keeping his knee off the ground, and dived across the goal line for a 1-yard TD to make it 17-6.

Marvin Young capped the outburst with a 52-yard punt return the TCU's 33.

That set up Almond's 9-yard TD pass through traffic to Anwton Courington.

It marked just the second time this season TCU was down at halftime and by far the biggest deficit the Horned Frogs have faced at any point this season.

Almond's third TD pass _ a 21-yarder to Young _ made it 31-6 late in the third quarter, but TCU wouldn't let its 12-game winning streak die without a fight.

Kenny Hayter capped two short drives with 1-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter for TCU.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)