Eagles wings clipped by Cowboys

Using their backup quarterback and with their starting running back out due to illness, USM wasn't able to overcome OSU's fourth quarter surge.

HOUSTON -- Torrin Tucker's college career came to an end Dec. 27. It was a game he lost and was still trying to make sense of what had happened when he faced the media under the Reliant Stadium bleachers.

He had to explain the loss Southern Miss suffered to Oklahoma State, 33-23, in the 2002 Houston Bowl.

The senior offensive lineman from USM had trouble getting the words out, but he managed a few and was proud of his own effort and how well the 2002 season went for the Golden Eagles.

"I think I played pretty good," Tucker said of his career. "I've had some nagging injuries over the years, but I don't complain about nothin.' I play my heart out, I play the best I possibly can. It was a great ride this year."

The Golden Eagles came into the game knowing they would miss their senior running back Derrick Nix due to illness.

"I think Derrick Nix has been a tremendous inspiration for our football team," said USM coach Jeff Bower.

But, the Golden Eagle offense took yet another hit following their first drive which ended in an interception by Cowboy defensive back Darrent Williams.

Their starting quarterback, sophomore Micky D'Angelo, came out of the game following that first quarter interception.

"He said he was fine in pregame and felt like he could throw," Bower said. "We were willing to give him a shot, and that pass, the interception, that flew on him, he just didn't feel good. He felt like he did more harm than good to the football team."

USM was instead led onto the field by redshirt freshman quarterback Dustin Almond and sophomore running back James Walley.

Almond had played in seven games this season and Walley had been in six -- but there was still something to be learned.

"I learned I need to get into some more condition," Almond said. "I feel like I grew up a lot today. I showed a lot of leadership and got up after every hit and learned from it today."

Almond contributed with his arm and his legs. He ran for 54 yards on 17 carries, including a 13 yard touchdown in the second quarter. He also passed for 173 yards, completing 11-of-18 passes.

The leading rusher for the Golden Eagles was Walley with 74 yards on 21 rushes. Walley also scored a rushing touchdown from three yards out early in the third quarter.

Chris Johnson lead the Golden Eagles with 67 yards and five receptions.

The Golden Eagle defense was lead by junior free safety Etric Pruitt who had 11 tackles and a blocked field goal.

Pruitt blocked OSU place kicker Luke Phillips 52-yard attempt with just two seconds remaining in the first half. It was Pruitt's third blocked kick of the season and the sixth of his career.

"It (had) great blocking, a great snap, right hold -- it was just -- I've got to give it to the Southern Miss guy," Phillips said. "He (Etric Pruitt) was a great leaper, he jumped real high, jumping on that pile trying to block the ball."

USM place kicker Curt Jones was called in on three occasions, and each time he came through with three points.

"I'm a senior, so this was a good way to go out for me," Jones said. "It helped my confidence."

Jones hit on field goals of 24, 30 and 38 yards. He also converted both PATs he attempted in the game.

He was the first kicker to hit three field goals in the history of the Houston Bowl -- the mark was then broken by Phillips with a little more than five minutes left in the fourth quarter when he hit his fourth of the game.

The Golden Eagles offense produced numbers close to their season averages, but at the end USM couldn't hang on as OSU put up 504 yards of offense.

"As far as the game goes, we played good," Jones said. "All three phases played good. They just made more plays than we did at the end of the game."

Pride ran deep for the Golden Eagles, from the players to coaches despite the loss. But, the Golden Eagles couldn't say the loss was what they wanted coming to Houston.

"The year, a little bit let down," Bower said. "But I'm not going to take anything away from our football team. We had another winning season, another bowl game.

"Yeah, we'd like to go back and play another couple games and hope the outcome would be a little bit different, but we didn't do it. We've just gotta' learn from it and we're gonna' go after this next year. I'm proud of this football team."

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