Troy secures homefield for Sun Belt Championship with road win over Southern Miss
Published 2:15 pm Saturday, November 25, 2023
For the second consecutive season, the Troy Trojans (10-2, 7-2) will host the Sun Belt Championship as Troy secured homefield advantage with a 35-17 win over the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (3-9, 2-7) on Saturday.
The win not only secured homefield advantage for the conference championship game but it also secured Troy a second consecutive 10-year season.
Troy took a 7-0 lead with 5:30 left in the opening period on a 2-yard touchdown run from Kimani Vidal. The Trojan defense dominated the line-of-scrimmage in the first quarter but Southern Miss started to get loose in the second period. The Eagles capped off a 9-play drive with a 19-yard field goal to cut the Troy lead to 7-3 with 13:21 left in the first half. Frank Gore Jr. then broke off a 57-yard touchdown run – the longest running play giving up by Troy this season – to give USM a 10-7 lead with 10:41 left in the half.
Troy retook the lead on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Gunnar Watson to Chris Lewis. A 37-yard pass to Lewis set up the score. Troy maintained the 14-10 lead at halftime.
Troy turned the ball over on downs twice in the first half and also gave up a fumble and an interception in the first two periods.
Troy started the second half off hot with an 11-play scoring drive that Watson capped off with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Conner to stretch the lead to 21-10 with 9:23 left in the period. Troy also converted its first fourth down of the day on the drive.
The Troy defense made Southern Miss pay for a mistake on the next play. As USM Gore was being taken down in the backfield by Javon Solomon, he attempted to pitch the ball back to a teammate. Troy freshman Chris Rodgers scooped up the ball, instead, and raced 40 yards to extend Troy’s lead to 28-10 with 5:37 left in the third quarter.
Southern Miss responded with an 11-play scoring drive that Ethan Crawford capped off with a 13-yard touchdown pass to cut Troy’s lead to 28-17 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter.
Troy sealed the win with some trickery as Gunnar Watson threw a pass behind the line to Lewis, who then tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Clayton Ollendieck to put Troy up 35-17 with 11:20 left in the game.
The Troy offense rolled up 429 yards of offense with 110 rushing yards and 319 yards through the air.
Vidal finished the day with 69 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, breaking Troy’s single-season rushing record in the process. Vidal has broken the single game rushing record, single season rushing record and career rushing record at Troy this season, putting together one of the greatest single seasons in Troy history.
Watson wrapped up his final regular season game at Troy, completing 21-of-34 passes for 289 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Jabre Barber caught six passes for 81 yards and Lewis caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. He also completed one pass for a 30-yard touchdown. Devonte Ross caught three passes for 52 yards.
Gore led the Southern Miss offense with 95 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries along with five catches for 59 yards.
The Troy defense came into the game ranked 15th nationally in sacks and ended with six sacks and 10 tackles-for-loss on the day. Troy held Southern Miss to 286 total yards on the day. Jordan Stringer led the Trojans with 10 tackles and a tackle-for-loss, while Jayden McDonald had nine tackles, one tackle-for-loss and one sack. Rodgers had three tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Troy is back at Veterans Memorial Stadium next Saturday, Dec. 2, for the Sun Belt Championship.