USM Escapes With a 6-3 Win

HOUSTON (AP) _ A brisk gulf breeze wasn't enough to blow away No. 14 Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles struggled offensively all game, partially thanks to a constant south wind, but Brant Hanna's two field goals were all they needed to eke out a 6-3 victory over Houston on Saturday. ``We did not play well,'' Southern Mississippi coach Jeff Bower said. ``I'm not happy with the way we played except for the first and last drives.'' Hanna, who missed three field goal attempts, kicked a 27-yarder with 9:27 remaining that turned out to be the game-winner after Southern Mississippi (6-1, 4-0 Conference USA) briefly came to life offensively. Facing an estimated 15 mph wind that hounded both offenses, the Golden Eagles capitalized on two defensive holding penalties and a pass interference call against Houston (3-5, 2-2) to move 75 yards in 12 plays early in the final quarter. Hanna, who had missed from 53 and 35 yards, nailed the chip shot for Southern Mississippi's only lead. Hanna then missed a 42-yard attempt with 3:45 remaining, and a sluggish Houston offense which gained only 148 yards for the game _ including minus-2 on the ground _ made a final charge. Jason McKinley marched the Cougars to the Southern Mississippi 16 when, on third-and-9, he was sacked by linebackers Rod Davis and Roy Magee for a 12-yard loss. Mike Clark's wind-aided 47-yard field goal try was wide left. ``They have a great defense and we played well against them, but you have to get more points when you get to their end of the field,'' McKinley said. Golden Eagles quarterback Jeff Kelly, who finished 17-of-32 for 201 yards, ran out the clock. Lost in the result was an inspired Houston defensive effort, especially by linebacker Wayne Rogers. The senior single-handedly pushed the Golden Eagles back 30 yards with seven tackles for loss, including two sacks. It was the first time in 17 games Houston did not yield a touchdown. ``Our defense played great. They would stop the run and they stopped their passing game,'' Houston coach Dana Dimel said, ``but we just didn't find a way to win.'' Despite Southern Mississippi's own punishing defensive play, it failed to intercept a pass for the first time in 11 games and could not take away any of turnover-prone Houston's four fumbles. The Golden Eagles did clamp down on Houston's running game as Leif Penn, the Cougars' leading rusher, had only 21 yards on six carries. ``When a team is one-dimensional, you can always figure out what they are going to do,'' Southern Mississippi defensive end Cedric Scott said. ``We knew they were going to pass because we can stop their run all day.'' Clark, who had a 23-yard field goal attempt blocked by Scott in the first half, opened the scoring with a 35-yarder early in the second quarter as Houston led 3-0 at halftime. Though Southern Mississippi spent practically the entire third quarter in Houston territory thanks to a series of short punts against the wind, the Golden Eagles managed only Hanna's 31-yard field goal to tie. Had Houston won, the Cougars would have shared first place in Conference USA with Southern Mississippi, which has won six straight since an opening loss to Tennessee. Houston has lost nine straight games to nationally ranked teams since a 56-49 triple-overtime win over then-No. 20 Southern Mississippi on Nov. 9, 1996.