Scores
New Orleans Bowl

Final

Southern Miss 31

(7-5, 4-3 away)

Arkansas State 19

(6-6, 5-2 home)

Coverage: ESPN

8:00 PM ET, December 20, 2005

1 2 3 4 T
USM 0 10 14 731
ARST 0 10 9 019

Top Performers

Passing: D. Almond (USM) - 253 YDS, 2 TD

Rushing: C. Hull (USM) - 37 CAR, 161 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: S. Nelson (USM) - 6 REC, 121 YDS, 2 TD

Golden Eagles, Indians to kick off bowl season

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) -- Southern Mississippi had just finished a light walkthrough, and with the New Orleans Bowl only a day away, coach Jeff Bower took a moment to reflect.

"With all the adversity that everybody in New Orleans has gone through, I'm thankful to the city of Lafayette for opening their arms up to this bowl and hosting this game," Bower said Monday. "Because if those things don't happen, there are two teams that are at home today."

The Golden Eagles will face Arkansas State on Tuesday night in the first of 28 bowl games -- and each team feels it has a special opportunity. The New Orleans Bowl was moved to Lafayette because of Hurricane Katrina, and while Southern Mississippi is playing in it for the second straight season, not much else about the game is familiar.

The Golden Eagles' opponent this year is one of the nation's unlikeliest postseason teams. North Texas represented the Sun Belt Conference in the first four New Orleans Bowls, but Arkansas State (6-5) shared the league title with Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette this season -- and won the tiebreaker.

"I have to really commend Arkansas State on what they did this season," Southern Mississippi defensive tackle Terrance Ford said. "Great things have happened for them this year."

Arkansas State played in Division I-AA between 1982-91, but this is the Indians' first bowl since returning to I-A. Their most recent postseason game was in 1987 in the I-AA quarterfinals.

Before going to I-AA, Arkansas State's last postseason appearance was the 1970 Pecan Bowl against Central Missouri State, so the Indians feel they're playing for more than personal pride.

"We're representing a lot of groups. We're representing all the underdogs," coach Steve Roberts said. "We're representing the state of Arkansas. We're representing the Sun Belt Conference. We're representing a lot of frustrated fans for the last 30 years or so that haven't been to a bowl game."

Arkansas State's excitement has been predictable, but Southern Mississippi is also grateful -- a season of turmoil taught the Golden Eagles (6-5) not to take bowl appearances for granted. Southern Mississippi had two postponements because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and had to play its final nine regular-season games in a nine-week stretch.

The Golden Eagles beat Tulane 26-7 in their final regular-season game to become bowl eligible, and they're looking forward to the chance to finish the year strong. Southern Mississippi beat North Texas 31-10 in last year's New Orleans Bowl -- and opened as a 17{-point favorite in this year's game.

New Orleans Bowl Preview

Nearly three out of five members of SportsNation think Jeff Bower's Southern Miss Golden Eagles will be the bowl season's first winner by taking care of Arkansas State in the Wyndham New Orleans Bowl. While SportsNation says USM has a slight edge on offense, they feel the Golden Eagles have a more pronounced advantage on defense. (Vote)

It's been a long year," quarterback Dustin Almond said. "But at the same time this team has come together and has grown tremendously."

Almond's impressive senior season helped the Golden Eagles earn their fourth straight bowl berth and eighth in nine years. He's thrown for 2,607 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Southern Mississippi linebacker Kevis Coley, Conference USA's defensive player of the year, has 144 tackles and five sacks.

Arkansas State is led offensively by Antonio Warren, who has 1,046 yards rushing, and kicker Eric Neihouse won a pair of games for the Indians in October.

Neihouse made a 35-yard field goal as time expired for a 39-36 win over Louisiana-Lafayette _ then the following week, the Indians beat Florida Atlantic 3-0 in the first NCAA game to go to overtime scoreless.

"They don't beat themselves," Bower said. "They take care of the ball and they kick it well. They create some turnovers defensively."

Arkansas State was involved in one controversy this weekend. Linebacker Chris Littleton was arrested on a pair of misdemeanors for allegedly assaulting a law officer who was breaking up a fight on the team bus.

But Arkansas State doesn't plan to let that incident spoil its trip. Like Southern Mississippi, the Indians are happy just to be playing.

"A lot of things that we've been able to experience that nobody in our program has ever experienced before," Roberts said. "So it's very, very exciting."

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Passing Leaders

Southern MissCMP%YDSTDINT
N. Mullens59.72470129
C. Weeks52.776125
Arkansas StateCMP%YDSTDINT
F. Knighten62.33277247
T. Houston66.76410

Rushing Leaders

Southern MissCARYDSAVGTD
I. Smith1365363.92
G. Payne862713.26
Arkansas StateCARYDSAVGTD
M. Gordon15911006.913
F. Knighten2117793.711

Receiving Leaders

Southern MissRECYDSAVGTD
M. Thomas4159214.45
C. Martin555319.72
Arkansas StateRECYDSAVGTD
T. Houston5368512.94
D. Paschal3764217.44