Trojans give Southern Miss a harsh welcome to the Sun Belt

Published 10:41 pm Saturday, October 8, 2022

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The Troy Trojans (4-2, 2-1) welcomed the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2-3, 0-1) to the Sun Belt Conference on Saturday night and handed them a 27-10 loss at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

It was Southern Miss’ first conference game as a part of the Sun Belt and Troy’s veteran defense made life difficult for the Golden Eagles all night long. Troy rolled up 338 yards of offense and the Trojan defense held Southern Miss to 205 yards. The Troy defense also forced four turnovers and earned five sacks on the night.

“I’m really proud of our guys, we’re 3-0 at home this year and we have three wins in a row for the first time since 2018,” Troy coach Jon Sumrall said. “I’m really proud of our guys for being able to get on a roll. I think early in the year we showed that we could handle failure well but you also have to know how to handle some success, too.

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“Our mantra, or our theme, is ‘so what, now what?’ and every seven days in this game you can be humbled, so you have to be prepared.”

The Trojans were the “walking wounded” coming into the game with a number of players out with injury. While starting quarterback Gunnar Watson was cleared to play, Jarret Doege got his first career start as a Trojan anyway.

“We knew for sure Gunnar could play yesterday but felt all week like he would be cleared to play by how he responded to his injury,” Sumrall said. “Out of an abundance of caution he was more of our emergency type quarterback tonight. We wouldn’t have had an issue playing him but we wanted to try and protect him if at all possible.”

Troy and Southern Miss slugged it out in a defensive battle to start the game and the Trojan defense struck first as Craig Slocum Jr. intercepted a Zach Wilcke pass off a deflection from O’shai Fletcher. The Trojans then managed to get on the scoreboard on a 48-yard field goal from Brooks Buce with 1:41 left in the opening period to put Troy up 3-0.

Southern Miss answered back with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Wilcke to Jason Brownlee with 14:34 left in the second quarter to give Southern Miss the 7-3 lead. That would be the Golden Eagles’ only lead of the game.

Doege got hit as he threw the ball on Troy’s next possession, and the pass was intercepted by Southern Miss’ Jay Stanley. Southern Miss drove deep into Troy territory but the Trojan defense answered once again. Markeis Colvin stepped in front of a Wilcke pass and returned the interception 44 yards into Southern Miss territory.

After a couple of Doege completions, DK Billingsley bulled his way into the end zone for Troy’s first touchdown of the night to put the Trojans up 10-7 with 3:52 left in the half. Troy took the three-point lead into halftime.

The Trojans kicked off the second half with one of their most efficient drives of the game. Troy marched right down the field in just six plays with Doege completing a 30-yard pass to Tez Johnson and Kimani Vidal picking up a 29-yard gain to put Troy at the 10-yard line. Vidal then went untouched into the end-zone for a 10-yard touchdown run with 11:23 left in the third quarter to extend Troy’s lead to 17-7.

Southern Miss cut the lead to 17-10 with 2:27 left in the third quarter on a 34-yard field goal. As the fourth quarter began, Southern Miss forced a punt with a chance to tie the game. The Trojan defense had other ideas, however as Mississippi State transfer Kyle Cass made a leaping interception along the home sideline on Southern Miss’ first play on the ensuing drive. A few plays later, Buce drilled a 30-yard field goal to extend Troy’s lead to 20-10 with 9:14 left in the game.

The Troy defense came up big once again when bandit Richard Jibunor stripped Wilcke on a sack and Buddha Jones recovered the fumble. It was the second week in a row that Jibunor earned a late strip-sack that helped seal a win.

“It’s something we really work towards in practice every day,” Jibunor said of getting strip sacks. “Just getting a sack is nice but causing a turnover and getting the ball back for the offense to get them rolling is better. We work at technique and matching the hands and going for the ball first and if you can’t get the ball, just get the player down. The main thing is every time we go on the field as a (defense) our first priority is to get the ball back for the offense.”

On the very next play, Doege sealed the win with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Johnson with 8:48 left in the game to put Troy up 27-10 for good. The Troy defense would not allow Southern Miss back into scoring position again.

Doege completed 17-of-24 pass attempts for 237 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Vidal rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while Deshon Stoudemire caught five passes for 82 yards. Johnson also had four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Slocum led the defense with eight tackles, one interception and two pass breakups. Carlton Martial tallied seven tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss, while TJ Jackson had five tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks.

While most of Saturday night was good news there was also some bad news as injuries continued to mount up for the Trojans against Southern Miss. Dothan native Jabre Barber went out with an injury in the first half and while the extent of the injury isn’t clear just yet, Sumrall said it looked like it may be a significant one.

“I think it’s a tough injury,” Sumrall said. “I don’t have all of the information yet and won’t fully know until tomorrow, but I think it’s a real bummer what happened. I think it’s probably a lengthy injury it looks like.”

Sumrall went on to talk about the type of player and teammate Barber is.

“Better people, make better players,” he emphasized. “Jabre Barber has had a great season to this point because he is a phenomenal person and has really high character.

“He works as hard, if not harder, than anyone on our football team. I love that kid and I’ll go to battle with him every day. He is everything you want in a teammate and a player.”

As difficult as it was for Johnson and his teammates to see Barber go down, he said it also fired the receivers up.

“Jabre is one of the main guys in the room that we kind of look up to because of how hard he works,” said Johnson. “He gets the spark going on our offense and he’s just that energy plug we need. When he went down it made us want to go even harder. It hurts to see him hurt but we’ll keep playing for him.”

Troy will host Texas State next Saturday, Oct. 15, for Homecoming at 2:30 p.m.