Trojans’ win good for the future

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Sports Columnist

We’ve all heard it said before, usually following a victory that wasn’t particularly pretty, that "a win is a win".

Coach Dennis Franchione said it after a rather ugly win over Vanderbilt to give the Crimson Tide its first victory under his reign.

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It is a phrase that can, in many ways, be used to describe Troy State’s defeat of Division-IA foe North Texas last Saturday.

Those of us who attended the game can attest to the fact that we have seen much more impressive victories by the Trojans over the years, at least from the standpoint of aesthetic value.

But just recall some of the more crucial plays of the game:

In the fourth quarter, with the Trojans clinging to a one-point lead, they find themselves backed up to their own goal line after an interception of a failed trick play by The Mean Green. They immediately fumble near the endzone, and in a heads-up play, Trojan receiver Skipper kicks the ball out of the endzone. This results in a safety, giving their opponents the lead, but it was the lesser of two evils, as a recovery by North Texas would have given them a touchdown.

On the ensuing free kick from their own 20, Troy State elects to kick from the tee instead of punting. An unusual choice, but one that paid off in a big way as the kick scooted past the North Texas returner and into the endzone. Instead of starting with great field position, as is usually the case after a safety, the Mean Green started from their own 20.

After the Trojan defense stiffened, the Mean Green were forced to punt. It wound up being a 14-yard shank off the right side of the punter’s foot.

Now the Trojans were in excellent position in North Texas territory to try to regain the lead.

Even the game-winning field goal in the final minutes of the game wasn’t a pretty sight. While watching the replay this weekend, it was obvious that an interior defensive lineman jumped offsides and made contact well before the snap, although no flag was thrown. Troy State kicker Drew Boteler appeared to lose his footing as he approached the ball and was leaning backward when he made contact. The ball practically climbed its way over the crossbar to give Troy State the hard-fought victory.

But when is a win more than just a win?

This win was more than just another win from many different angles. Besides the opportunity to send the seniors out with a victory and end the season on a good note and a 7-4 record, this game had possible implications for the future of Troy State football.

In the first place, North Texas was the first Division I-A school to ever make the trip to Troy State University to play a football game. It may not seem like much, but for those who could never imagine teams like Alabama or Auburn coming to Troy for a game, it’s a start. And the fact that, when a Division 1 school finally did come, we beat them, surely doesn’t hurt matters.

Who the Trojans beat was also important. Although most of us had never heard of the North Texas Mean Green before, (and by the way, that’s got to be one of my favorite mascots – right up there with the Cairo Syrup-makers), they are the champions of the Sun Belt Conference.

So what?

Well, that happens to be one of the conferences that Troy State is trying to become a member of. It’s no secret that being a member of a conference is very important in Division I, for scheduling purposes, recruiting, etc. The fact that Troy State defeated the Sun Belt champion, as well as defeating other Sun Belt member Louisiana-Monroe, has to make TSU look like an attractive team to add. Middle Tennessee State also belongs to this conference and the Trojans have competed evenly with them in the past few years, ruining their homecoming two years ago and giving them one of only two home losses under their current head coach.

The Sun Belt also has an automatic Bowl bid that goes with winning their conference. North Texas, with a record of 5-6 this season, will be playing in the New Orleans Bowl. Don’t you know that the Sun Belt would much prefer to be represented by a team that went 7-4 and defeated Mississippi State along the way? I don’t think that many of their schools can boast of defeating an SEC team.

Last Saturday’s game, and really, this entire season, went an awful long way toward validating Troy State’s decision to move to Division I. Many people, myself included, questioned the move when it was decided.

But watching the way Troy State has performed this year, with their goaline stands against Nebraska, their hanging tough with Miami, and of course their domination of mighty Mississippi State, has caused me and I’m sure countless others, to reconsider. Thinking that, if Troy State had been in the Sun Belt already, they could likely be going to a bowl game this year, has to bring a smile to the faces of the TSU administration and supporters. Maybe we do belong with the ‘Big Boys’.

Heck, maybe we are the ‘Big Boys’.

A lot of people in Starkville think so.