Sun Belt Championship not about revenge

Published 11:37 am Monday, November 27, 2023

One of the biggest storylines coming into this Saturday’s Sun Belt Championship will be the “Hail Mary” game between Troy and Appalachian State last season but, like last season, the Trojans aren’t letting that game define this one.

On Sept. 17, 2022, Troy seemed to be poised to earn a win over Appalachian State but in the final seconds of the game, the Mountaineers struck with a 53-yard Hail Mary touchdown that stunned the Trojans. Despite that heartbreak Troy, reeled off 11 straight wins, including a Sun Belt Championship.

“It sucked,” Troy Coach Jon Sumrall said when asked what he remembered about that game. “I was hurt deeply for our kids and I will never forget it. As a coach, you remember the losses as much – or more – than the wins sometimes. We played a really good game for 59 minutes and 59 seconds and didn’t on that one play. I’m most proud of how far we’ve come and grown as a team.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Sumrall said that his staff made sure to instill in the Trojans that one play – and one game – wouldn’t define them.

“While we didn’t get the tangible result of a victory, there was growth and change that occurred,” Sumrall said. “It is never okay to lose. I don’t ever feel good about losing but I did see growth in a loss. What I talked about with our team in that moment was that loss – or that moment – would not define us. How we responded to it would define us.”

The response was 11 straight wins, a Sun Belt Championship and a Cure Bowl victory.

“Since that loss, we’ve gone 21-2 and our guys had the right response and it shows the character of our locker room,” said Sumrall. “It’s a full circle moment to go back and play these guys now. It’s neat to see how we have come full circle over the last two years.”

Still, Sumrall said that his team hasn’t focused on getting any sort of “revenge” for the Hail Mary and are just concerned about a championship.

“You worry about what you can control,” Sumrall emphasized. “I don’t go, ‘I want revenge or another shot at those guys.’ I just want our guys to play good football against whoever is in front of us. It just happens to be a team we have a little bit of history with.”

Sumrall also compared the way his team responded to the Appalachian State game last season to the way his team responded to the heartbreaking loss to James Madison earlier this season.

“There are a lot of parallels there,” he said. “I brought it up to our team. We started 1-2 in 2022 and lost a heartbreaker and this season we started 1-2 and lost a heartbreaker (to JMU). Both were our first conference game and starting out 1-2 and 0-1 in the conference is not ideal.

“I think it showed the group’s resiliency and their character. When you’ve been there before it gives you that confidence. I say the best indicator of future success is past success.”

The eyes of the nation will be centered on Troy, Alabama, this Saturday, Dec. 2, as Troy looks to repeat as Sun Belt Conference Champions against Appalachian State at 3 p.m. in a game that will air nationally on ESPN.