HONOLULU - Austin Davis made the plays when it counted to send Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora out a winner.
Davis threw two touchdowns, including a 4-yarder late in the game, and No. 22 Southern Miss earned a school-record 12th victory by holding off Nevada, 24-17, in the Hawaii Bowl Saturday night.
“It wasn’t his best game, but he did enough to help us win this football game,’’ said Fedora, who is leaving after four seasons to take over at North Carolina.
Davis overcame a shaky game 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.
“I thought we struggled the entire game offensively. We made a few big plays at the end, but really the defense, these guys were special and they’ve done that all year,’’ Davis said. “We made a play or two on offense when we needed to.’’
Davis was off most of the night, but made it count on the 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 deciding 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.
Nevada was without its top receiver, Rishard Matthews, who has 91 receptions for 1,364 yards and eight TDs.
The game featured a Hawaii Bowl-record 17 punts - one of which was blocked by Southern Mississippi’s Tim Green and recovered by Tray Becton-Martin to open the scoring - and the 41 combined points was the fewest in bowl history.
Nevada answered the special teams score with a 5-yard touchdown run by Mark, who also ran one in from 45 yards to give Nevada a 14-7 lead with about five minutes left in the first half.
But the Golden Eagles scored 10 points in the final 1:21 of the half to take a 17-10 lead on a 48-yard field goal and a 2-yard touchdown pass from Davis to Tracey Lampley.
Nevada tied the game 17-all late in the third quarter on a 37-yard field goal by Allen Hardison, and the score remained the same until Davis turned up his play late in the fourth.