Turnovers hard to overcome in latter stages of game

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 26, 2000

Sports Writer

A cool and cloudy overcast hanging over Richard M. Scrushy Field was an appropriate

setting for the Troy State University football program in its final push for a

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national championship as it came to an end late Saturday afternoon.

Trailing 26-9 going into the fourth quarter, the Trojans put together a furious rally before falling short to the Appalachian State University Mountaineers 33-30 in the first round of the NCAA Division I-AA Football Playoffs in front of a small crowd that saw the end of an era in TSU football.

From 1993 to 2000, the Trojans went to the postseason seven times in the last eight seasons including three Southland Football League championships and two appearances in the national semifinals.

However, the previous accomplishments over the past eight years couldn’t changed what happened to the Trojans against the Mountaineers.

For three quarters, the Trojans were stymied by three lost fumbles resulting in 20 Appalachian State points which proved costly in the outcome ending TSU’s season.

"Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers," said TSU head football coach Larry Blakeney. "That’s what got us out of kilter a little bit. We played hard and we were good at times and bad at times against a good football team. It’s who can keep the edge the longest. Our kids fought hard, but they made a few more plays than we did."

Early in the first quarter with the Trojans clinging to a 7-0 lead, usually sure handed Matt Allen mishandled the snap on a punt. In an attempt to avoid the ongoing rush, Allen was unable to control the ball and was tackled at the TSU three yard line before he could kick it the back of the end zone for a safety.

Three plays later, the play proved costly as ASU quarterback Joe Burchette lobbed a three yard pass to Troy Albea in the corner of the end zone for a tying touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 7:23 left in the first quarter. The Mountaineers ended up scoring 24 of the next 26 points before the Trojans could recover.

Blakeney said the bobbled snap turned out to be the big turning point in the contest.

"Anytime something like that happens you have to protect the ball especially on special teams and snaps. That was a big momentum swing for them."

In the first three quarters, the Trojans were held to just 94 yards of total offense before putting up 158 yards in the fourth quarter. Blakeney said he credited the Mountaineer defense for doing the job in the first three quarters.

"That’s a credit to their defensive structure and play," Blakeney said. "Offense is sometimes a tedious mixture and sometimes it takes a while to find it. If we can’t run the football, we’ve got problems."

The Trojans were held to just 58 yards rushing compared to 129 yards on the ground for Appalachian State.

Early in the fourth quarter, the turnover bug bit the Trojans once again as Thad Buttone was hit causing him to lose the ball setting the Mountaineers up at the TSU 30-yard line as Corey Hall recovered the fumble. Two plays later, Jimmy Watkins broke it off left tackle and scored from 12-yards out extending the lead to 26-7.

However, the Trojans didn’t quit as Nutter fired a pair of touchdowns to David Hill for four yards and Buttone (two yards) cutting the deficit to 26-23 lead with 5:50 remaining.

On the ensuing drive, the Mountaineers faced a second down and 12 at the TSU 34 when he fired a 34 yard touchdown pass to Jose White over the middle for what proved to be the game winning touchdown.

Nutter’s fired his third touchdown pass to Jonathan Carter cutting the deficit to 33-30 with 1:47 left and two timeouts still remaining for the Trojans. After an unsuccessful onside kick, the Mountaineers picked one first down to run the clock out.

The Trojans ended the 2000 season with a record of 9-3 without a national championship as they start making the bold move to Division I-A beginning in the 2001 season. Despite the long odds facing the Trojans, Blakeney said the program must move forward.

"I’m not concerned about I-A," Blakeney said. "I’m worried about this team right now. I want these guys to know the world is not going to end because of this lose. We’ve got players that can make it to the NFL and can get their degrees. We need to be able to look forward toward winter conditioning and spring ball with all of the guys we have returning."

It was an incredible comeback by the Trojans that would have been one for the storybooks. However, the mistakes and poor judgement by the Trojans caused them to make an unexpected quick exit from the I-AA playoffs.

Unfortunately, there won’t be another opportunity for TSU football as they start from scratch next season in I-A.