Contributed by: LA Tech Athletic Communications
MOBILE, Ala. – Junior J’Mar Smith directed a late fourth quarter touchdown drive, leading Louisiana Tech to a 30-27 win over South Alabama on a turnover-plagued Saturday night at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Junior Jaqwis Dancy rushed for a career-high 144 yards and two scores despite sitting most of the second half with cramps while sophomore Israel Tucker added a career-high 82 rushing yards as Tech amassed 231 yards on the ground in the win.
“We won,” said Skip Holtz. “That’s first and foremost. I told the team in the locker room that 50 percent of the teams in the country will lose this opening weekend. We went on the road and found a way to win. It’s hard to win on the road. I don’t think we played really well. I thought there were some great individual performances and plays, but overall as a team, we weren’t great.
“We struggled to protect the quarterback early. I thought we ran the ball really well, but we had some turnovers offensively. We have to fix a lot of things on the offensive side of the football.”
Smith overcame three interceptions, two in the second half, to lead Louisiana Tech on a 12-play, 74-yard touchdown drive, capped by an eight-yard scoring strike to sophomore wide out Adrian Hardy on a slant pass with 2:19 to play.
After converting only 1 of its first 11 third down attempts in the game, the Bulldogs converted three huge third down attempts on the eventual game-winning drive — two via Smith’s arm and one via his legs on a 13-yard scamper. The touchdown to Hardy gave Tech a 30-20 advantage.
However, the game was not over. South Alabama took only 68 seconds to score as Kawaan Baker struck paydirt from four yards out with 1:11 to play, cutting the Tech lead to 30-26. Dae’Van Washington blocked the Jaguars extra point.
On the ensuing onside kick, Bulldog senior wide receiver Teddy Veal jumped high into the air to knock the ball out of bounds, preserving possession and the win for the Bulldogs. With only one timeout remaining for South Alabama, Smith took a knee on three straight snaps as the final minute ticked away on the Jaguars.
Tech (1-0) won a road opener for just the second time in its last 11 tries and upped its record to a perfect 7-0 against the Sun Belt Conference since the league added football in 2001. The Bulldogs improved to 2-0 all-time against South Alabama.
The two teams combined for seven turnovers in the game, three by the Bulldogs and four by South Alabama. Amik Robertson and Darryl Lewis each recorded interceptions while James Jackson and Jordan Baldwin each recorded fumble recoveries – both forced by Jackson.
“I thought defensively, we played pretty well,” said Holtz. “We gave up 300 yards on the night, but 59 of that came on the run by the quarterback in the last two minutes. I thought we competed tonight. Offensively, we weren’t consistent but our defense kept us in the game the way they played in the first half. At the end we needed to make some plays in the passing game, and we did.”
Dancy scored the first touchdown of the year for the Bulldogs, taking a handoff on a counter play and running off right tackle for an eight-yard TD scamper with 8:41 to play in the first quarter. The run capped a three-play 64-yard drive that was highlighted by 36-yard pass from Smith to Veal that took the ball inside the USA 10-yard line.
Tech upped its advantage to 13-0 early in the second quarter. Dancy scored his second touchdown of the game with a 1-yard run, capping a 13-play, 72-yard drive with 13:18 to play in the quarter. Dancy carried the ball nine of the 13 plays on the scoring drive which was kept alive by a personal foul penalty by the Jaguars when Tech failed to convert a fourth-down play. Bailey Hale’s extra point was no good.
“I think our (special teams) weren’t very good tonight,” said Holtz. “We gave up a long return. We missed an extra point. We just did a number of things … There were a plethora of things that have to be cleaned up. It wasn’t our prettiest performance, but it was a win on the road.”
The Bulldog defense stifled South Alabama for the first quarter and a half before a 22-yard Davan Dyer punt gave the Jaguars the ball on the Tech 35-yard line. Three plays later Baker ran 28-yards down the LA Tech sideline for a touchdown, cutting the Bulldogs advantage to 13-7.
Tech countered late in the half as Bobby Holly caught his first career pass, a 1-yard TD from Smith on a fourth down play. The Bulldogs led 20-7 at the break.
Hale upped Tech’s lead to 23-7 with a 23-yard field goal on the first possession of the third quarter, capping a 7-play, 72-yard drive. The highlight of the drive was a 61-yard connection from Smith to Hardy, who ended up with three receptions for 73 yards and the one score.
South Alabama scored on a 3-yard pass from Cole Garvin to Baker with 6:59 to play in the third quarter and a Maurice Mayo 5-yard run with 8:18 to play in the fourth quarter, trimming the Tech advantage to 23-20.
With the game on the line, Smith came through on the game-winning drive. On a third down and 13 play, he scampered 13 yards for a first down to the Tech 46-yard line. Three plays later, he completed a 19-yard bullet to Rashid Bonnette to convert a third and seven play and move the ball down to the Jaguars 24-yard line.
And two plays before the touchdown pass to Hardy, Smith hit Veal for an eight yard gain on a third down and four play. Smith ended the game 19-of-29 for 209 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Washington led Tech with 10 tackles while Jordan Bradford added nine tackles, including one sack for minus 11 yards. Jackson added six tackles, ½ sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery while Jaylon Ferguson added six tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss.
The Bulldogs will host Southern Saturday at 6 p.m. in a celebration of the first 50 years of Joe Aillet Stadium.