UAB 30, Southern Miss. 17
Atwater returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown with 1:05 left to seal the Blazers' 30-17 win over the Golden Eagles on Thursday night, the first victory over their Conference USA rival in 10 attempts.
The Blazers (2-3, 2-1) had set up Josh Zahn's second field goal of the fourth quarter after recovering a muffed punt. Southern Miss (3-2, 1-1) still needed only a touchdown and extra point to improve to 10-0 over UAB.
Atwater stepped in front of Austin Davis's first pass of the drive that started with 1:19 left and no timeouts, crossing the field and racing into the end zone. He earlier recovered a fumble to set up the go-ahead score late in the third quarter and made 10 tackles.
Joe Webb rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown and passed for another score for the Blazers, who had lost three straight games and were humiliated 70-14 by the Golden Eagles last season.
"We're proud and excited for a lot of people, especially our seniors," UAB coach Neil Callaway said. "We've finally won a game against Southern Mississippi. They are a program with a lot of tradition. This is huge for us now, and it's huge for our program because we've taken a step that we've never taken before."
This time, UAB caught a Southern Miss team fresh from a 35-28 loss to No. 18 Kansas, and without leading rusher Damion Fletcher (groin injury) and No. 2 receiver DeAndre Brown (shoulder). Golden Eagles coach Larry Fedora wasn't using any excuses.
"They looked like they wanted it more than we did," Fedora said. "The kids were motivated, the kids played hard the whole time and they beat us in all three phases of the game."
Zahn hit a 51-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and a 33-yarder with 1:27 left. The first kick was a yard shy of the school record accomplished three times.
"It feels like we just won a championship," Webb said. "This is a great win for the whole university."
The Golden Eagles made it 20-17 with Davis's 20-yard touchdown pass to Quentin Pierce with 5:24 left. Pierce had to reach back for the ball but sidestepped a diving defender on the third-and-18 play.
Davis completed six of seven passes for 70 yards on the drive, with the only miss coming when he was called for intentional grounding right before the score. He couldn't pull out another one at the end of a big night.
"It's still a one-score game and all we've got to do is execute and go down the field," Fedora said. "But we shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place."
Davis was 24 of 32 passing for 234 yards with a couple of touchdowns to Pierce, who caught seven passes for 108 yards and his first two career scoring receptions. Davis completed his first nine passes but was sacked three times in the second half.
"Offensively, we couldn't get into a rhythm," Fedora said. "He was running for his life quite a bit."
Fletcher's replacement Tory Harrison gained 66 yards on 11 carries.
The elusive Webb was a one-man show on UAB's offense at times. He ran 24 times against a defense that came in allowing a league-low 64 yards a game on the ground. Webb was only 6 of 13 passing for 23 yards - most of those on a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jeffery Anderson to make it 17-10 with 1:43 left in the third quarter.
Anderson lined up at tackle on the play.
"It's easy to lose track of Jeff. It's a trick play, one we work on a lot," Webb said. "Our coaches picked the right time to call it."
That was set up with a fumble by Freddie Parham, who also muffed the late punt. Drew Luker recovered that one.
Webb also scored on a 31-yard run that ended with him barreling through two defenders at the goal line in the first quarter for a 10-0 lead.
Southern Miss had botched a chance to jump ahead on the opening drive of the second half. The Golden Eagles lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1 from UAB's 25, but wound up punting because of a false start.
It was one of four Southern Miss drives to end without points in UAB territory.
The Golden Eagles had tied the game at 10-all at halftime when Justin Estes booted a career-best 49-yard field goal as time expired.