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Southern Miss. 28, No. 13 TCU 21
Associated Press


MOBILE, Ala. -- Southern Mississippi delivered a message to a Conference USA newcomer: Get ready for a wild ride.

Cedric Scott
Cedric Scott and head coach Jeff Bower celebrate the Golden Eagles' Mobile Alabama Bowl victory
The Golden Eagles shed their late-season offensive struggles, contained Texas Christian tailback LaDanian Tomlinson and got the best of the nation's top defense Wednesday night.

The final blow was Jeff Kelly's 29-yard touchdown pass to freshman Kenny Johnson with eight seconds left, giving Southern Miss a 28-21 win over the 13th-ranked Horned Frogs in the Mobile Alabama Bowl.

It was a wild beginning to the bowl season and a triumphant finish for a senior class that won three of four bowl games.

"It's like I told our seniors," said Golden Eagles coach Jeff Bower, whose team went 8-4 despite losing three of its last four regular-season games. "You always want to leave the program better than the previous senior class, and the foundation of this program is stronger than it's ever been."

The Horned Frogs (10-2) missed a chance to win bowl games in three consecutive years for the first time. Next season, they'll join Conference USA, where Southern Miss has won three titles in five years.

They'll make the move without Tomlinson and four starting offensive linemen, and with a new coaching staff, led by former defensive coordinator Gary Patterson. Quarterback Casey Printers will be back, too, and looking forward to the challenge.

"You want better competition," the sophomore said. "That's what we live for."

The Southern Miss defense, rated No. 2 overall coming in, sent Tomlinson, a Heisman Trophy finalist after rushing for more than 2,000 yards, into the NFL with what for him was a poor game. Tomlinson scored a pair of third-quarter TDs, but was held to 118 yards on 28 carries. He was still voted the game's Most Valuable Player by the media.

"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 this season.

Normally reliable placekicker Brant Hanna had a nightmare game for Southern Miss, missing four field goals and getting two blocked. When the Golden Eagles got the ball back with 33 seconds left and 43 yards to cover, Bower had already planned to use Curtis Jones for a final kick if it came to that

"It was a tough night for Brant, but Brant's won a lot of games for us," Bower said. "I asked Curt, 'Will you take that redshirt off to win this football game?' He said, 'Yeah, coach."'

The final chance came after Etric Pruitt got a hand on Mark Haulman's punt to set up good field position. TCU went three-and-out when a first down would have enabled the Horned Frogs to run out the clock and force overtime.

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 next play, he lofted a perfect strike over the middle to Johnson, just above safety LaVar Veale's outstretched arm.

"There weren't many people who gave us a chance to even stay on the field with the No. 1 defense in the country," Kelly said.

Backup Southern Miss tailback Kelby Nance carried 16 times for 104 yards. It was the first career 100-yard game for the senior, who started the season as a third-teamer.

The Horned Frogs endured a December coaching change and uncertainty over who would lead them in the game.

Dennis Franchione left for Alabama Dec. 1, and was initially expected to coach the bowl game. TCU officials decided late last week to allow Patterson to begin early.

Franchione watched the game from the sideline and press box.

"It's been wild," Patterson said. "(The assistants) really did a great job of preparing for the ball game with everything going on."

2000-2001 Bowl Results

 Jeff Kelly and Kenneth Johnson hook up for a 29-yard TD with eight seconds left to win the game.
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 Leo Barnes picks off Casey Printers and returns it 50 yards for a TD.
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 Leroy Handy hauls in the TD pass from Jeff Kelly.
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 TCU's Casey Printers avoids tacklers long enough to find George Layne in the end zone.
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 LaDainian Tomlinson takes the pitch and rumbles in for the seven yard TD.
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 TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson breaks loose for a 33-yard TD run.
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 Quaterback Jeff Kelly is proud to be a part of a team that never gave up.
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 Coach Jeff Bower comments on Jeff Kelly's game-winning touchdown.
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