HONOLULU – Austin Davis threw two touchdowns, including a 4-yarder late in the game, and No. 22 Southern Mississippi earned a school-record 12th victory by holding off Nevada 24-17 in the Hawaii Bowl on Saturday night.
Davis overcame a shaky start for the Conference USA champion Golden Eagles (12-2), and the defense in the second half managed to shut down Nevada's potent pistol attack led by Lampford Mark.
Davis was off most of the night but made it count on the game-winning drive. On third-and-goal, he scrambled right and found Kelvin Bolden for the 4-yard score, capping a seven-play, 68-yard drive. He had just 59 yard passing at halftime and finished 18 of 41 for 165 yards.
On the winning drive, Davis was 3 of 4 for 66 yards, including a 43-yard completion to Dominique Sullivan down the right sideline and a 19-yarder to a crossing William Spight. Sullivan had five catches for 75 yards.
With Davis held in check, the Golden Eagles relied on their defense, stopping Mark on fourth-and-1 at midfield with 3:56 left. Mark had 183 yards rushing for the Wolf Pack (7-6) but was held to just 21 yards in the second half.
Cody Fajardo was 8 of 19 for 60 yards for Nevada. He also was held to just 14 yards rushing on nine carries before being replaced by Tyler Lantrip.
It was the final game for Southern Miss under coach Larry Fedora, who is leaving after four seasons to take over at North Carolina. The Golden Eagles got another big win after capturing their fifth C-USA title by upsetting previously unbeaten Houston 49-28 in the conference championship game. This was the first 10-win season for Southern Miss since 1988.
Nevada tied the game 17-17 late in the third quarter on a 37-yard field goal by Allen Hardison, taking advantage of a miscue by Southern Miss. Lampley waved for a fair catch on a punt and was run into by teammate Alex Smith. The ball bounced off Lampley's left leg and Nevada's Brandon Marshall recovered on the Southern Miss 14, leading to the field goal.
Just as Nevada seemed to take control of the game, Southern Miss scored 10 points in the final 1 1/2 minutes of the first half to take a 17-14 lead into the break.
Mark's 45-yard run gave the Wolf Pack a 14-7 lead with about 5 minutes left in the half, and Nevada took the ball right back on the ensuing kickoff.
Lorenzo Devers returned the kickoff 61 yards and appeared to be heading for a touchdown. After shedding the kicker, Devers was stripped from behind by Khalid Wooten and Thaddeus Brown returned it 16 yards to the Nevada 36.
But the team from Reno gambled and ended up turning it over on downs on its own 45 when Mark was stopped short on fourth-and-1. That led to a 48-yard field goal by Hrappman with 1:21 left in the half.
On the kickoff, Wooten fumbled and Southern Mississippi's Emmanuel Johnson recovered at the Nevada 24. Seven plays later, Davis threw a 2-yard pass to Lampley in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score. A brief scuffle broke out between some of the players after the catch, but no one was ejected.
With both teams struggling to get going, special teams got the Golden Eagles on the scoreboard from a blocked punt by Tim Green early in the second quarter.
Green burst through the middle and leaped in the air, getting his hand on the ball as he flipped over a blocker. Tray Becton-Martin then dropped on the ball in the end zone, giving the Golden Eagles a 7-0 lead. Tray Becton-Martin is the 25th different player to score for the Golden Eagles this year, which leads the nation.
Nevada answered with a 5-yard touchdown run by Mark, who had a 25-yard scamper to begin the 81-yard drive. Mark had 41 yards rushing on the drive, giving him 112 yards and his sixth-straight game with 100 or more.
Both teams blew good scoring opportunities in the first quarter.
Mark burst up the middle for 43 yards and was chased down from behind by Presley, getting Nevada inside the red zone. But Cody Fajardo's pass on third down was tipped and intercepted in the end zone by Jacorius Cotton.