Back-to-Back: Troy repeats as Sun Belt Champs

Published 8:13 pm Saturday, December 2, 2023

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The Troy Trojans (11-2) are once again Sun Belt Conference Champions after throttling the Appalachian State Mountaineers 49-23 in the SBC Championship Game at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Dec. 2.

The win marks Troy’s 10th consecutive victory this season and notches the Trojans’ eighth conference championship and second in a row. It’s also the first time Troy has repeated as conference champions since 2010.

“I’m extremely proud of our team. These guys, it’s all about them,” Sumrall said pointing to his players. “I’m just grateful, I thank God for everything we’ve done. (The players) changed me and helped me be better and I’m glad they let us coach them. I could not be more proud of their accomplishments. They’ve had a heck of a year and I’m extremely grateful for what they’ve done.”

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As he’s done all season, SBC Offensive Player of the Year Kimani Vidal led the way for Troy, tallying an SBC Championship record 233 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Along with winning SBC Championship MVP, Vidal’s five touchdowns are the most any player has scored in a conference championship in FBS history.

“I felt like in our time here we’ve worn some people down and gotten the run game going,” Sumrall said. “The run game got going a little faster today and there was some things we did well up front but a lot of it had to do with (Vidal). I think the thing got started a little earlier today and it was fun to see him hit some of those big runs.”

Things didn’t start out so great for either team as an uneventful first quarter ended in a scoreless tie. That tie remained until Vidal scored a 7-yard touchdown run on a direct snap with 5:33 left in the first half. Just over two minutes later, Vidal scored again on a 36-yard scamper to extend Troy’s lead to 14-0 with 3:15 left in the half.

Kimani Vidal (28) set a FBS Conference Championship game record with five touchdowns in the Sun Belt Championship. (Photo by Josh Boutwell)

Appalachian State then started to rally. First, the Mountaineers scored on a 1-yard run with just 39 seconds left in the half to cut Troy’s lead to 14-7 at halftime. Then, Appalachian State opened the second half with an 11-play scoring drive that Kanye Roberts capped off with a 6-yard touchdown run to tie the score with 10:11 left in the third quarter.

Troy answered right back, however, when Gunnar Watson heaved a 51-yard touchdown pass to Chris Lewis to put Troy back up 21-14 with 8:31 left in the period. Troy would never trail again.

Appalachian State cut the lead to 21-17 with 3:50 left in the third quarter on a 41-yard field goal but as the fourth quarter began, Vidal scored his third rushing touchdown to extend the lead to 28-17 with 10:57 left in the game. Just six seconds later, Troy’s Don Callis stripped a Mountaineer runner and scooped the ball up to race 10 yards for his first career touchdown. Troy’s lead swelled to 35-17 with 10:51 left.

Appalachian State cut the lead to 35-23 on a 6-yard run, but the Mountaineers’ two-point conversion attempt was snuffed out. Troy answered right back when Watson hit another big pass to Lewis and then Vidal scored on a 6-yard run to give Troy a 42-23 lead with 4:30 left.

On Troy’s next possession, Vidal broke a tackle and raced 49 yards for his fifth touchdown run to cap off the 49-23 win.

Troy rolled up 463 yards of offense with 271 yards on the ground and 5-of-10 on third and fourth downs. While Appalachian State did muster 383 yards of offense, the Trojans forced two turnovers and held the Mountaineers to just 9-of-19 on third and fourth downs.

Watson completed 16-of-24 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown, while Lewis hauled in three catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. Dell Pettus led the Troy defense with 11 tackles, two tackles-for-loss and his first career sack, while Javon Solomon tallied eight tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Next up, Troy waits for its bowl destination, which should be announced on Sunday. Group of 5 schools are guaranteed one automatic qualifying bid in a New Year’s 6 Bowl and Sumrall made Troy’s case for that spot after the win.

“You look at our league, we have 12 of 14 teams in our league that are bowl eligible,” Sumrall emphasized. “I don’t know what those other conferences have or don’t have but I know if you look at our league – top to bottom – I don’t think there is a Group of 5 league like our league. We have been challenged and tested every week and to win in this league is hard. I’ve coached in the SEC and this is like coaching in the SEC Group of 5. You better be ready to strap it up and play every week.

“There is no week off in this league. The coaching is elite, the players and talent are elite and the administrations support football the right way. I think those other programs are great programs but I don’t know if anyone has run the gauntlet like we have. If you look at the strength-of-schedule, I’m going to guess ours is pretty far up there as far as Group of 5 teams. These guys will do great as a team and have a great experience wherever the bowl people want to put us – and we’re going to go and prepare the best we can for that game – but these guys have earned every opportunity and I think they deserve a great shot at a great opponent.”