MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Looking to celebrate Homecoming weekend with its first-ever Sun Belt Conference victory, the University of South Alabama football team instead found itself trailing by 14 points after the opening play of the fourth quarter. A trio of Jaguars were ready to respond to that challenge, however, creating a dramatic finish.
Gabe Loper scored a touchdown with 69 seconds remaining in regulation, Pat Moore blocked two field-goal attempts after that and Michel Chapuseaux kicked a pair of field goals in overtime, giving the Jags a 37-34 come-from-behind double-overtime victory over the Owls Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Not only was it USA's first win in league play, it was the first for the Jaguars (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) over an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision school. FAU (1-6, 0-4 SBC) fell for the sixth straight time since opening the season with a victory.
The rally began when the Jaguars took over at their own 20-yard line with 10-and-a-half minutes remaining. Thirteen plays later, Demetre Baker scored his second touchdown of the day from one-yard out to cut the USA deficit to 31-24 with 5:45 remaining in regulation. On the drive, Ross Metheny opened by completing passes to Jeremé Jones and Greg Hollinger for 14 and 15 yards, respectively. A 27-yard pass to Loper moved the ball to the FAU-13, and from there USA picked up two first downs on Owl penalties before Baker reached the end zone.
With the Owls facing third-and-six from their own 32-yard line on their ensuing drive, Eddy Cabrera broke up a pass intended for William Dukes to force a punt, giving the Jags the ball back at the USA-15 with just under four minutes to go. Baker rushed for 18 yards up the right sideline, but USA still faced fourth-and-seven when FAU was called for pass interference to extend the drive. Baker picked up another first down with carries for eight and four yards, and Metheny followed with an 18-yard scramble that moved the ball to the Owl 16-yard line. He then hit Loper — who made a one-handed catch — in the left corner of the end zone to tie the score with 1:09 on the clock.
"All credit goes to Ross. He made a perfect pass," Loper stated. "I leaned on the defensive back like the coaches taught me to. He had my hand hooked. It was a similar play to Arkansas State last week, and I just remembered that I had to redeem myself. The coaches have been preaching all week that if the officials don't call it, take it out of their hands and make the play. That's all I could think about. I was just blessed to have the ball thrown so perfectly."
"Talk about a playmaker. We have been trying to get Gabe on the offensive side of the ball since week one, and he definitely has a special talent and the things he can do in the air to go get the ball are special," observed Metheny. "He's only been working as a receiver for a couple of weeks, and he already has the offense down, knows which way to line up and runs his routes really well.
"He's definitely a guy we can count on, and I'm fortunate that he's my teammate."
FAU moved 46 yards in the final minute, with a 16-yard completion from Graham Wilbert to Dukes putting the ball on the USA-15 with 12 seconds to go. Mitch Anderson's 32-yard field-goal was blocked by Moore, though, sending the game into overtime.
In the extra sessions, neither team picked up a first down. Chapuseaux and Anderson each hit from 37 yards out in the first overtime, but a 44-yard attempt by the latter in the first part of the second extra period was blocked once again by Moore.
Baker — who posted a team-high 73 yards on 16 carries — rushed for seven yards on second down, setting up a 35-yard attempt by Chapuseaux that sailed through the uprights.
It was just the second time since starting play in 2009 that the Jaguars have won a game when trailing at the end of the three quarters after first accomplishing the feat at UC Davis on Oct. 23, 2010.
"When the time had come, my heart was pounding and I was nervous. I had to settle in because I've practiced so long for this," Chapuseaux explained. "When I start taking my steps over, I zone out everything and I tell myself to be ready for it. When I kicked it, I made sure it was between the posts and then I just turned around. I didn't even look at it. I just let the crowd tell me if it went in, and then I had a swarm of teammates just hitting me.
"We definitely needed this win; we wanted it more. We didn't give up, and this is definitely going to help us throughout the rest of the season."
"I can't tell you how proud I am of these young men and my [coaching] staff for what they've done — for hanging in there," said USA head coach Joey Jones. "They fought every day at practice, and the main reason we won the football game is because of character. These guys were down 14 points in the fourth quarter, and I didn't see quit in anybody's eyes. They kept fighting and all of a sudden we had a play or two go our way, and we were in the ballgame. We got into overtime, and Michel Chapuseaux
did a great job kicking field goals at the end. I don't know how many plays we made in the fourth quarter, but it was a bunch of them.
"My hat's off to this team and the coaching staff for what they've done."
Loper, playing just his second game at wide receiver, led the Jags with four catches for 91 yards, while Hollinger had two receptions for another 34. Metheny accounted for 213 yards of total offense, with 179 through the air on 13-of-27 passing and 34 coming on 13 rush attempts. Terrance Timmons ran 11 times for 36 yards and T.J. Glover added 29 yards on six attempts, as USA posted 180 yards rushing and 359 total in the contest.
The Jaguars had four defensive players with a double-digit tackle total for the first time in school history, with Terrell Brigham, B.J. Scott and Enrique Williams all collecting 11 stops and Alex Page adding 10; those were career-best figures for both Brigham and Page. Clifton Crews and Jake Johnson chipped in with eight stops apiece, Darrius Morrow had four to go along with two passes defensed and Moore was credited with three solo tackles, all for loss.
The Owls totaled 461 yards of total offense, with 303 coming from Wilbert and the passing game. He completed 27-of-41 attempts, including two touchdowns that gave FAU a double-digit lead in the second half.
After Crews blocked a 39-yard FAU field-goal attempt in the opening minutes of the third period, as the Jaguars returned the ball past midfield Terrell Mitchell forced and recovered a fumble that gave the Owls the ball at midfield after a five-yard bench infraction on the USA sideline. On the next play from scrimmage, Wilbert found Dukes for a 50-yard scoring pass over the middle to make the score 24-14. And following Chapuseaux's 32-yard field goal midway through the quarter — which cut the Jag deficit to seven points while capping a 12-play, 55-yard march that took nearly five-and-a-half minutes off the clock — Wilbert's second touchdown pass of the second half from six yards out to Nexon Dorvilus pushed the FAU advantage to 31-17 on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
Dukes recorded a game-best 119 yards on five receptions and Dorvilus finished with four catches for 52 yards as well. Daniel McKinney supplied a game-high six catches for an additional 57 yards.
Jonathan Wallace carried 21 times for 101 yards, helping the Owls gain 158 yards rushing.
Brent Harstad's 15 tackles led all players, while David Hinds added 11 stops and Adarius Glanton 10 for FAU.
A Wallace one-yard touchdown run just over five minutes into the game, capped an eight-play, 64-yard march that gave the Owls a 7-0 lead, but the Jaguars needed four minutes to tie the score when Baker concluded a 75-yard drive scoring from four yards out. USA picked up four rushing first downs to start the possession on runs by Glover, Trey Fetner and two from Metheny, then Metheny hit Desmond Jones in the flat for an 11-yard gain to move the ball to the FAU-8. Baker reached the end zone one play after the Owls were called offside.
FAU regained the lead with their second scoring drive in as many possessions, however, going up 14-7 on a 14-yard Martese Jackson touchdown run down the right sideline. Wilbert began the drive with a 15-yard rush, later adding completions of 16 yards to Byron Hankerson and 21 yards to Dorvilus to move FAU into the red zone.
Both defenses forced a three-and-out the next time they were on the field, but a bad snap on third down and a 30-yard punt gave the ball to the Jags on the FAU-35 early in the second quarter. Metheny hit Loper for a gain of 28 yards on USA's first play of the drive, with the junior quarterback keeping the ball and diving into the end zone one snap later to tie the score again with just over 12 minutes left in the opening half.
FAU would take a 17-14 lead into the locker room when Anderson connected on a 23-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter. The Owls moved 49 yards in 12 plays and two-and-a-half minutes to set up the score, with Wilbert completing 6-of-8 attempts for 32 yards on the march and Wallace adding 13 yards on two carries.
USA is next in action when it visits Louisiana-Monroe at 4 p.m. Saturday.
"The game is never over until it's over. Anybody can win, anything can happen," said Johnson. "We came back and got that touchdown. We had three blocked field goals. Chap had three kicks that he made. We played well in all facets.
"Defensively we had a good game plan, we just weren't communicating as well as we should have in the first half. We communicated better and stopped them a lot more in the second half. We just never gave up. That's one thing you can't ever do is give up."
"All I can say is wow, what a game," added Metheny. "Talk about a monkey off your back, getting the first Division I [FBS] win. We needed the signature win to propel us. We're definitely going to embrace this win and cherish it, but we're still hungry. We want more and we want to win more, so we're going to come on Monday ready to work toward
our next opponent."
-USA media relations-
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