Vidal’s record-setting day lifts Troy in season opener

Published 11:05 pm Saturday, September 2, 2023

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After a blazing quick start, the Troy Trojans (1-0) kicked the 2023 football season off with a 40-38 win over the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack (0-1) at home on Saturday.
Troy also got a record-setting night from junior running back Kimani Vidal as he set the single game rushing record with 248 yards on the ground.

Troy’s start couldn’t have been any better in the game. The Trojans capped off a 5-play drive to open things up with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Gunnar Watson to junior college (JUCO) transfer tight end Ethan Conner to put Troy ahead 7-0 early. Then, on the very next play, Reddy Steward intercepted a SFA pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. In the span of 23 seconds the Trojans were up 14-0.

SFA broke the shutout with a 36-yard field with 6:43 left in the first quarter but Troy answered right back when Troy cashed in a 2-play drive that was jumpstarted with a career high 59-yard run from Vidal. On the next play, Watson found Dothan native Jabre Barber for a 16-yard touchdown pass to give Troy a 21-3 lead.

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Troy opened the second quarter with a 29-yard field from Troy native Scott Taylor Renfroe, the first field goal of his career. Then, things started to unravel for the Trojans.

SFA found the end zone on a 2-yard run with 8:47 left in the half to cut the lead to 24-10. That drive was aided with three 15-yard penalties from the Trojans. On Troy’s next possession, Watson was blasted on a play and the Lumberjacks picked up a fumble and raced 37 yards for another score to cut Troy’s lead to 24-17. After a Troy interception, SFA added a 48-yard field goal to cut the lead to 24-20.

Troy’s offense then got things going again when Vidal took a short pass and raced 45 yards deep into SFA territory. Watson then found Conner for a 19-yard touchdown pass with just 12 seconds left in the half. The Trojans would take a 31-20 lead into halftime.

The third quarter was all Troy as the Trojans added a 36-yard field goal from Renfroe and a 13-yard touchdown pass from Watson to Devante Ross to give Troy a 41-20 lead going into the final period.

After a 49-yard SFA field goal early in the fourth quarter, Troy’s Jarris Williams put things out of reach on a 3-yard scoring run with 4:45 left to extend the lead to 48-23. SFA did manage to add an 18-yard touchdown run with under three minutes remaining to bring the score a bit closer, however.

“I’m never going to apologize for a win but we need to play a whole lot cleaner if we’re going to reach our goals,” Troy Coach Jon Sumrall said. “That wasn’t what it needs to be in certain spots, second quarter in particular.

“We have a lot of things to clean up. We didn’t take care of the football; we had four turnovers. That’s not going to win very many football games. Defensively, I thought we tackled really sloppily and didn’t finish the right way. We have a lot to improve on.”

Troy rolled up 540 yards of offense with 342 yards on the ground. Vidal rushed for 248 yards on 25 carries and also caught two passes for 54 yards, giving him more than 300 all-purpose yards on the day.

“I’m really proud of Kimani Vidal, what a day by him,” Sumrall said. “To set the school rushing record at a place like this is very impressive. A lot of the runs he made we had unblocked free hitters that could have been (tackles-for-loss) and next thing you know he’s ripping off eight, 10 or 12-yard gains. I’m really happy for him but not surprised at all. He’s probably the hardest working guy in our program.”

Vidal came just two yards shy of breaking the record last season and became just the second Trojan to surpass 200 yards rushing in back-to-back games. In fact, Vidal has eclipsed 200 yards in three of his last five games.

“It feels great,” Vidal said of breaking the record. “I got real close last year and it feels really great that I was able to have the opportunity to try and get it again. I just focus on doing my best like Coach Sumrall says and it just happened to result in (the record).”

Vidal wasn’t the only record-setter on the day, however. Steward’s first quarter interception return for a touchdown was his third career “pick six,” tying him for first place in school history with Rayshun Reed. Steward wasn’t even aware of that fact after the game.

“I didn’t know I was tied (for the record) but that’s a big deal,” he said with a smile. “I just give all the credit to my defensive teammates. Dell tipped that ball and after that I got it and I have to thank him for tipping it and those guys that blocked for me on the return. Now that I know that, I’m going to try and break it.”

Conner also became the first Troy tight end to catch two touchdown passes in a game since at least 1999. In fact, the single season touchdown record for a Troy tight end is three. Conner earned two in his first Troy game.

“I have to give all the credit to my teammates for putting me in the best position to go out there and make plays,” Conner said. “All the credit goes to those other guys.”

Watson completed 14-of-22 passes for 198 yards and four touchdowns along with an interception. Williams rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown on six carries, while Conner caught four passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns.

The Troy defense was led by Keyshawn Swanson with six tackles and one pass breakup, while Richard Jibunor, Jayden McDonald and Oshai Fletcher each had five tackles. Fletcher also tallied two tackles-for-loss. Steward had four tackles, one tackle-for-loss and an interception return for a touchdown.

In his first start at field goal kicker, Renfroe was 2-for-2 on field goals and 5-for-5 in PATs.

“I’m very proud of (Renfroe),” Sumrall said. “He’s a local kid that loves Troy and is so proud to wear the ‘T.’ To be vey candid, when I got here in January 2022 I didn’t know the future would hold him being the starting field goal kicker.

“The work he’s put in to dedicate himself to his craft is great. I’m extremely proud of what he’s done and could not happier for his success. He’s probably the most improved player in our program from January 2022 to now. He’s really pushed himself in every way to become what he’s become.”

Troy celebrated Pro Football Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware during the opener with DeMarcus Ware Day, as well. Ware’s jersey No. 94 was retired during a halftime ceremony.

Things won’t get any easier next week as the Trojans hit the road to face No. 16-ranked Kansas State at 11 a.m. Kansas State defeated SEMO in its season opener 45-0.