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USA 59 – Eastern Michigan 10

MOBILE, Ala.– A record-tying first half proved more than enough to pace South Alabama in a 59-10 win over Eastern Michigan in the 25th Annual 68 Ventures Bowl on Saturday.

The Jaguars (7-6), who were playing as the visitors on their home field at Hancock Whitney Stadium, matched two 68 Ventures Bowl records in the first half. They scored 38 points, a feat East Carolina achieved in 2001, and held a 35-point halftime advantage, equal to the lead enjoyed by Tulsa in 2008.

By game’s end, the Jags had amassed the most points they’d scored since moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012, logged an all-time program high of 627 yards of total offense and posted the second-largest margin of victory in 68 Ventures Bowl history. The 49-point win was the seventh-most-lopsided win all-time in NCAA bowl history.

“A lot of work goes into a moment like this,” South Alabama coach Kane Wommack said. “There were young men over a decade ago [who] came here to do something special. They came with nothing and built a foundation of what we have become. This has been an opportunity that we took advantage of … The City of Mobile and the University of South Alabama are doing special things together.”

South Alabama’s offense was dynamic. Quarterbacks Gio Lopez and Desmond Trotter, playing in place of an injured Carter Bradley (knee), combined for 307 yards and four touchdowns on 23-of-36 passing.

Lopez was the more productive of the pair with 192 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-19 passing. He added a fourth touchdown on the ground – a 27-yard effort in the third quarter – and led South Alabama with 88 rushing yards. For his effort, Lopez was named Bowl MVP.

“It was awesome to have a positive ending to the season heading into January,” Lopez said. “It means a lot to the city and the team and it means a lot to come out with a win.”

By comparison, Trotter completed 9-of-17 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 27 yards and a 3-yard score.

The South Alabama rushing attack was solid on the night, with seven ball carriers combining for 320 yards and four touchdowns. In addition to the quarterbacks’ touchdown runs, Kentrell Bullock scored on a 17-yard rush in the second quarter and PJ Martin scored from 6 yards out in the third.

But it was wide receiver Jamaal Pritchett who earned the game’s offensive MVP with 8 catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including a diving snag of a 42-yard pass from Lopez late in the first half. Seven of Pritchett’s receptions, 111 yards and both touchdowns came in the first half.

“Staying alive. Just made myself available for our QB,” Pritchett said of the catch. “We are headed [in] a positive way and it means a lot to get this win.”

Eastern Michigan (6-7) struggled mightily on offense. At halftime, the Eagles had just 27 total yards and a single first down.

An aggressive South Alabama defense kept the Eagles befuddled most of the night, and Eastern Michigan finished with just 150 yards of total offense (77 rushing, 73 passing).

“This was going to be a battle with the run,” Eastern Michigan coach Christ Creighton said. “We wanted to start the run game and knew they were going to crowd the box. They are 6-0 when outrushing and 0-6 when they don’t. They got us both ways with that.”

South Alabama defensive lineman Jamie Sheriff was voted defensive player of the game after finishing with four tackles, two quarterback hurries and a pair of tackles for loss.

Eastern Michigan quarterback Cam’Ron McCoy – playing in place of normal starter Austin Smith, who entered the transfer portal – was the Eagles’ leading rusher with 73 yards on 13 carries, including a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

However, McCoy’s passing performance was an anemic 12-of-27 for 73 yards with a pair of first-half interceptions, one apiece to Jaguar safety Jalen Jordan and cornerback Marquise Robinson.

One of the few bright spots for Eastern Michigan’s defense was linebacker Joe Sporacio, whose late-first-quarter interception set up the Eagles’ first score, a 49-yard field goal by Jesús Gómez early in the second quarter. Sporacio finished with five tackles, one of which was for a loss.

Congrats to USA,” Creighton said. “They were certainly the better team tonight in every way. I know Coach Wommack and want to congratulate them and his team. I do want to thank the Bowl. The time we had here was fantastic. I’m really sorry we didn’t perform like we would have wanted to perform.”

It was the first meeting between the Eagles and Jaguars.

Jamie Sheriff earned the Defensive MVP award after finishing with four tackles, two for loss and a pair of quarterback hurries. Diego Guajardo made all eight extra points and a 46-yard field goal to open the contest to garner Special Teams MVP.