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Excitement high for bowl games

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through theMagnolia State, football players, coaches and fans were packing inanxious anticipation of holiday bowl games.

Reservations were made in Memphis and Dallas, with visionsof Liberty and Cotton Bowl victories dancing in theirheads.

Players would be restless, eating new food and sleeping instrange beds.

Yes, the fans would be there, too, screaming for theirbeloved Golden Eagles and Rebels.

Dawn would break on Dec. 31st.

Would the Southern Miss Golden Eagles outscore thoseexplosive Utes from Utah or would the Nasty Bunch defense providethe catalyst?

On Jan. 2, 2004, a New Year’s delight would light upDallas.

Eli Manning and the Ole Miss Rebels would tackle theOklahoma State Cowboys.

Obviously an offensive extravaganza,

The score could go higher than a shiny Lufthansa.

Alumni would preen, parade and promise, “Bring home a win orelse.”

It’s been a long season and sportswriters’ eyes arebleary.

There’s still some extra effort needed to make their readersmerry. But that expense account makes the boss leery.

Nevertheless, this is no place for “Bah” and”Humbug.”

The Starkville Grinch may growl with jealousy

But the Eagles and Rebels are bowling and that makes theiralumni happy.

Merry Christmas !” proclaimed Santa as he flew out ofsight, and , “By the way, what time is kickoff?”

Ole Miss secondary coach Alundis Brice is visiting family andfriends in Brookhaven for Christmas. Brice and the Rebels departFriday for Dallas and a long week of Cotton Bowl festivitiesleading up to the 1 p.m. kickoff on Jan. 2.

Two former Lawrence County stars, Ole Miss fullback LorenzoTownsend and linebacker Ken Bournes, will add to the local interestin Dallas. Meanwhile, in the Memphis Liberty Bowl, Lawrence Countyfullback/tailback Wayne Hardy is looking for another rewarding gamewith the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Kickoff is 2:30 on the31st.

Townsend, a former DAILY LEADER All-Area Football Player of theYear, worked his way into starting status at Ole Miss. In two yearsat Copiah-Lincoln Community College, he played sparingly. A giftedathlete, Townsend even gave basketball a try at Co-Lin and didremarkably well.

He walked on at Ole Miss and sat out last year, improving hisstrength, speed and knowledge. Townsend got his chance at fullbackthis year and made a favorable impression.

The highlight of his season was the Auburn game. Townsend caughta 49-yard pass from Eli Manning and that reception set up thegame-winning touchdown.

“The hardest thing for me to learn was who to block on differentdefenses,” said Townsend. “Coming from high school, I was used tocarrying the ball 18-20 times (per game).

“Fullback is different because you have to block a lot,” addedTownsend. “It’s become a great position for me.”

Townsend said he enjoys playing with Manning. “I think he is thebest quarterback in the country. He’s real cool under the gun. Hekeeps everybody straight.”

Bournes has made some adjustments since the season began, movingfrom defensive end to linebacker. Considered the best juniorcollege prospect in Mississippi two years, ago, Bournes has laboredthrough a period of adjustment at Ole Miss.

“I haven’t played defensive end since the Memphis game,” saidBournes. “They brought me back to linebacker and let me blitz alot.”

Bournes said his best games were Alabama and Florida, both Rebelvictories. “Florida was really my first big game to play in. I hadeight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble against Alabama.”

Brice, 31, an Ole Miss alumnus, was considered among the bestcornerbacks in Rebel history. He intercepted 14 passes during hiscareer, 7 each in his junior and senior years. He was drafted inthe fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys.

According to Brice, cornerback is a key to successful defense.”You are on a little island out there. A little mistake is a bigmistake.”

Hardy has made a big transformation this season after a redshirtfreshman year. Projected as a tailback, Hardy was slowed by a leginjury last spring. His season started slowly but it has reachedhigh gear.

In USM’s final two games, Hardy drew the starting nod atfullback, filling in for injured Bobby Weakley. Blocking is thename of the game and Hardy is protecting USM quarterback DustinAlmond.

“We have to keep the defense from blitzing and sacking ourquarterback,” said Hardy. “We all had to learn a new offense thisyear and it took time. On offense you have to have 11 parts workingtogether.”

Hardy had a season-high 3 carries for 13 yards against EastCarolina. He hopes to touch the football a few more times in theLiberty Bowl.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz at The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com