Houston Bowl: Okla. St. 33, Sou. Miss. 23

Dec. 27, 2002 at 7:03 PM
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HOUSTON, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Tatum Bell snapped a tie with a 22-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter and then set up a field goal with an 88-yard scamper Friday as the Oklahoma State Cowboys defeated Southern Mississippi in the Houston Bowl, 33-23.

Oklahoma State (8-5) rebounded from a 2-4 start to win six of its last seven games and reach eight victories for the first time since 1997 and just the second time since 1988. The Cowboys defeated Nebraska and Oklahoma in the same season for the first time in school history.

It was Oklahoma State's first bowl victory since Barry Sanders ran for 222 yards and five touchdowns in a 62-14 rout of Wyoming in the 1988 Holiday Bowl.

"From how our kids responded from 2-4 to come on really strong, it puts the program in great shape," said Oklahoma State Coach Les Miles, whose team was 4-7 last season.

"It's another great win," said Cowboys tight end Billy Bajema, whose 33-yard reception set up Bell's go-ahead score. "We beat Texas A&M, Nebraska and OU. The end of the season has been a blast. Our maturity level as a team is way ahead of what it was last year."

Southern Mississippi (7-6) played without star running back Derrick Nix, whose kidney disorder is worsening, and starting quarterback Mickey D'Angelo, who has been bothered by a rib injury and left after just one series.

But freshman backup Dustin Almond sparked the Golden Eagles, who rallied from deficits of 10-0 and 20-13 to take a 23-20 lead on Curt Jones' 30-yard field goal with 4:13 left in the third quarter.

"Derrick Nix is a tremendous inspiration to our football team," Golden Eagles Coach Jeff Bower said. "A lot of players on our side wanted to win for him."

Almond completed 11 of 27 passes for 173 yards and also rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

"Their defensive line impressed me a lot," Almond said. "I learned I need to be in better condition. I got up after every hit. I think I showed a lot of leadership."

Oklahoma State grabbed the lead for good, 30-23, on Bell's run with 8:07 to play. On Southern Mississippi's ensuing possession, punter Mark Haulman pinned the Cowboys at their two.

But Bell ripped off an 88-yard gain on the first play of the series, setting up a 23-yard field goal by Luke Phillips -- his fourth of game -- with 5:15 to go. Bell rushed for 160 yards on only 13 carries.

Rashaun Woods, who had three touchdown receptions in Oklahoma State's 38-28 upset of Oklahoma in the regular-season finale, caught nine passes for 164 yards and a score.

It was the ninth 100-yard game of the season for Woods, who joined Hart Lee Dykes as the only Oklahoma State receivers to surpass 3,000 career yards.

"They really wanted to come out and stop the run," said Woods, who had six catches for 140 yards in the first half. "The second half, they made up their mind they wouldn't let me do what I did the first half."

Woods finished with 107 receptions, breaking the Big 12 Conference single-season record of 100, set by Texas' Kwame Cavil in 1999.

"Rashaun Woods is a tremendous player," Miles said. "He uses his mind as well as his body. He understands coverage, how to play the ball."

Josh Fields completed 21 of 40 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns for the Cowboys, his third straight 300-yard game.

Fields' 51-yard TD pass to Woods with 1:38 left in the first half gave Oklahoma State a 20-13 lead at intermission.

"We gave up too many big plays," Bower said. "That's one thing we couldn't do. He's (Woods) made big plays every game. We had double coverage (on his touchdown reception). He's done that on everybody."

The Golden Eagles tied it on James Walley's two-yard run with 11:50 left in the third period and grabbed a 23-20 lead on the last of Jones' three field goals.

The Cowboys pulled even on Phillips' 28-yard kick four seconds into the final quarter. He also converted field goals of 46 and 52 yards in the first half.

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