Remembering the 2011 Southern Miss Conference USA Football Champions

Published 9:20 am Wednesday, November 3, 2021

In a flash, Dominique Sullivan was gone.

The pass was perfect.

Austin Davis hit Sullivan in stride at midfield and when the play was done, the Southern Miss wide receiver slowed up some 69 yards later in the end zone to give a huge underdog a lead that never vanished. That day finished to be quite possibly the greatest victory of the 21st century for the Golden Eagle football program as they upended No. 7 Houston.

The 49-28 win proved significant because it came with a trophy for winning the Conference USA championship – the fifth for the school in its history – in front of a mostly hostile sold-out crowd at Robertson Stadium on the UH campus.

That play also provided an example of one of many highlights that came from the 2011 Golden Eagles as the squad finished with a school record for wins in a 12-2 season. It also capped a school-record 18-straight winning seasons for the program as they went to a bowl game for the 14th time in 15 years.

Twenty-five different Golden Eagles scored touchdowns for a team that averaged 36.9 points and 461.4 total offensive yards per game. Southern Miss, though, didn’t just get it done on offense. The defense showed an innate ability to produce points as well, registering 13 non-offensive scores that season. The list included eight interceptions, three punt blocks, one fumble and one blocked field goal return for touchdowns.

It truly was a team that could do it all.

Under fourth-year coach Larry Fedora, and with the leadership from team captains, Davis, offensive lineman Lamar Holmes, kicker Danny Hrapmann, defensive lineman Cordarro Law and linebacker Ronnie Thornton, Southern Miss opened the year with a 19-17 non-conference victory over Louisiana Tech at The Rock in a tropical storm. In that game, unbeknown to Fedora, redshirt freshman Corey Acosta came off the bench to make two fourth-quarter field goals of 25 and 42 yards in place of Hrapmann, who later returned to action to convert a 49-yard, game winner with 2:32 left for the 19-17 victory.

After losing at Marshall the next week, 26-20, in the Conference USA opener by committing five turnovers, the Golden Eagles reeled off six wins in a row.

The first was a 52-6 drubbing of FCS foe Southeastern Louisiana. Kendrick Hardy ran for 155 yards of the 335 the Golden Eagles produced in the win. The following week, Davis threw for three touchdowns and the Golden Eagles ran a fake punt out of its end zone to win at Virginia, 30-24.

A 48-24 home win over Rice followed, before the Golden Eagles went on the road and defeated Navy 63-35. Marquise Wheaton set the early tone by returning a blocked field goal 79 yards for a score. Both teams went over 500 yards of total offense, but the Midshipmen could not keep up with the powerful Golden Eagle offense and the Southern Miss alma mater was played second that day.

After an open week, Jamal Woodyard rushed for 116 yards, including a 55-yard scoring run, to lift the Golden Eagles to a 27-3 home victory over SMU. Southern Miss then traveled west to UTEP and brought home a 31-13 victory as Quentin Pierce scored on one of three Davis touchdown throws from 47 yards away.

Jamie Collins returned an East Carolina errant pass 97 yards the following week for the squad’s first touchdown and Tracy Lampley added a 60-yard punt return later in the opening quarter for a score as the Golden Eagles went to Greenville to take a 48-28 decision.

Southern Miss then had to hold off UCF on a two-point conversion with no time left to hang on for a 30-29 triumph at The Rock as Hrapmann booted five field goals in the contest in the victory.

That winning streak ended on a cold Thursday night at Legion Field in Birmingham. Despite jumping out to a 14-0 advantage, UAB rallied to take a 34-31 decision winning it on a late Blazer field goal.

Following the UAB affair, the Golden Eagles completed the regular season the following weekend by capturing the East Division championship with a 44-7 defeat of Memphis. A 100-yard interception return by Kendrick Presley late in the game provided an appropriate signature in ending the regular season.

The focus then turned to Houston and the league’s championship game. Most everyone had already anointed the Top 10 Cougars the trophy with their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback prior to the contest. What many did not know was the team adopted the motto “They Don’t Know” earlier in the season as many discounted the Golden Eagles as the season progressed and how good they truly were.

And much to the chagrin of many of those folks leading into the championship game, they certainly did not know of the domination by the Golden Eagles which emerged to win the C-USA title.

Southern Miss then went on to play in its 10th-straight bowl game against Nevada in the Hawai’i Bowl. In a tie game in the fourth quarter, Kelvin Bolden took a four-yard pass from Austin Davis with 5:48 left which proved to be the difference in a 24-17 triumph over the Wolfpack as the Golden Eagles finished No. 19 in the final Associated Press rankings.

Fedora, who finished with 34 career victories, left to take over the football program at North Carolina following the game. Eighteen Golden Eagles were honored following the regular season by the league for their outstanding play.

Holmes, Law, Wheaton and Lampley all earned first-team all-conference nods, while Davis, offensive linemen Joe Duhon and Jason Weaver, and Hrapmann were named to the second squad. Woodyard, defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches and defensive back Tray Becton-Martin made the All-Freshman team, while Lampley, wide receivers Ryan Balentine and Bolden, linebackers Collins and Ronnie Thornton, Presley and long snapper Creighton Nelms were named league honorable mention.

While it is hard to believe it has already been 10 years since this team roamed the gridiron, their accomplishments remain some of the most memorable in school history.

The Southern Miss Department of Athletics welcome them back this Saturday for the 2 p.m., North Texas contest as the squad will be recognized during the game as they celebrate their 10-year reunion at The Rock.