HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — It looked as if the nation's only winless team would finally get over the hump, but Autrey Golden and Texas-El Paso had other plans Saturday night.
Golden returned a fourth-quarter kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and the Miner defense held when it counted most to propel UTEP past Southern Mississippi 34-33 on a wild senior night in Hattiesburg.
After Golden's big return gave the Miners (3-8, 2-5 in Conference USA) a 34-27 lead, Southern Mississippi (0-11, 0-7) responded with an 86-yard drive that cut the lead to one with 2:48 left. Southern Mississippi coach Ellis Johnson opted for a two-point conversion attempt, but Arsenio Favor's pass was intercepted by Demarcus Kizzie in the end zone.
Favor stepped forward as if he was going to run, then stumbled backward under pressure and tried to connect with receiver Justin Sims on a crossing route. He never saw the 5-foot-9, 180-pound freshman safety, and threw it right to him.
After finishing 12-2 a year ago, Southern Miss is 0-11 for the first time in school history and dropped all of its home games for the first time since 1977.
The Miners converted a pair of first downs on the final drive to salt the game away.
"It was an exciting game," UTEP coach Mike Price said. "It kept getting more exciting as it went on. We did everything to break their will but they didn't break, they didn't quit. They played hard and you have to give them credit, but we played hard when we needed to and this is a great victory for us."
UTEP quarterback Blaire Sullivan finished with 155 yards on 9-of-15 passing and rushed for 98 yards and a score. Nathan Jeffery added 76 yards on the ground, including touchdown runs of one and three yards.
Favor, the fourth Southern Miss quarterback to start in 2012, completed 16 of 22 attempts for a season-high 374 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 42 yards and another score. The Golden Eagles also reached a season-high in total offense with 532 yards.
But UTEP committed just two penalties for 20 yards and capitalized on the game's only turnover — a second-quarter interception by Darren Woodard — with Jeffery's second touchdown run of the first half.
Those two scores and kicker Steven Valadez's field goals of 29 and 26 yards in the first half helped the Miners to a 20-17 halftime lead.
"We put in a new play with (Sullivan) keeping it on a quarterback run up the middle." Price said. "They hadn't seen that from us before and they made the adjustment at halftime, but we had quite a few crucial conversions in the first half just off of that keeper up the middle."
Southern Mississippi pulled even at 20-all in the third quarter on a 36-yard Corey Acosta field goal, and tied it again in the fourth at 27-all before Golden's kick return on an 81-yard touchdown pass from Favor to Quentin Pierce.
The announced crowd of 23,757 that had watched the Golden Eagles drop five-straight home games came to its feet one more time for the two-point conversion attempt at the end, but the result was the same.
"The call at the end, I feel like, was as big as anything." Johnson said. "We thought about going for one, taking it into overtime. All week, we felt like we had a great two-point play on them and if we got into that situation, we felt like we'd go to that. That one is on me."