Defense Leads Troy Past Marshall

by Caleb Thomas

In front of the fourth largest recorded crowd at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Troy defeated Marshall 16-7 last Saturday to move to 2-2 on the season. 

27,514 fans witnessed the victory under the lights Saturday night, as Head Coach Jon Sumrall got his first Sun Belt victory as Troy’s head coach. 

“We came back after the heartbreak of last week and competed with great effort,” said Sumrall during the postgame press conference. 

It was a memorable night for plenty of reasons, but the most notable has to be Carlton Martial’s standout performance. During the first quarter, Troy’s All-American linebacker broke the Sun Belt career tackles record. However, he wasn’t done there. Despite a chipped helmet, Martial finished the game with an astounding 18 tackles. 

Going into the matchup with the Thundering Herd, Troy’s defense had a tough task at hand. Marshall running back and Florida State transfer Khalan Laborn averaged 140.7 rushing yards per game entering the contest. The Thundering Herd’s fate rested on their running back, but for much of the game, Troy limited his impact.

After receiving the ball to start the game, Troy’s offense gashed Marshall to move into the red zone. But as has been the case all too often to start the season, turnover issues struck and Gunnar Watson was strip sacked. 

It was a frustrating way to end the drive, but the Trojans’ woes didn’t last long as T.J. Jackson rocked Marshall quarterback Henry Colombi, forcing a fumble. Defensive tackle Buddha Jones scooped up the loose ball and took it to the house to give Troy an early 7-0 lead.

After a quick three and out by Marshall, Troy moved down the field courtesy of a 63-yard reception by Tez Johnson. They then scored a field goal off the leg of Brooks Buce to go up 10-0. 

Throughout the rest of the first half, there were some bright spots and some disappointments for the Trojans. While the defensive line dominated, the offense had yet another red zone turnover that kept Troy’s lead at only ten. 

Marshall tried to switch up the offense in the second quarter, rotating quarterbacks Colombi and Cam Fancher. Although it was a decent idea, Troy’s defense remained unfazed and continued to frazzle both signal callers. 

Watson and the offense had a few opportunities to break the game open, but miscues gave Marshall a chance to score before halftime. Colombi, back in the game, led a drive downfield before a TJ Harris sack killed the momentum. Marshall had a chance to put points on the board with a field goal before halftime, but Troy had other plans.

As the time ticked down, Trojans cornerback Caleb Ransaw batted away the kick and the raucous crowd at the Vet descended into chaos. Halftime hit with Troy leading 10-0.

The second half started in uneventful fashion, with both teams trading punts. However, disaster struck for Troy when Watson had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage. Marshall picked it off and scored a few plays later to make it a 10-7 game. 

Marshall would be done scoring after that, with the defense digging in the rest of the game. Troy’s defensive line lived in Marshall’s backfield, recording 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Among the top performers for the Trojans were Jackson, Javon Solomon and redshirt freshman Phillip Lee, who all picked up a sack. 

Although they had their struggles, the Troy offense also flashed explosiveness throughout the game– they had five passes of over 40 yards. In the fourth quarter, Watson delivered strikes to Johnson and Jabre Barber for 58 and 60 yards, respectively. Both drives eventually ended in field goals by Buce, and the game ended with the final score of 16-7.

Martial wasn’t the only Trojan to achieve individual accolades. Watson eclipsed 5,000 yards passing for his career. Additionally, Johnson set a career high in receiving yards with 121. Overall, it was a dominant performance by the Trojans. Sumrall and the rest of the team have proved they can beat anyone in the conference with better execution.

On Saturday, Troy faces off against Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are 3-1 on the season, with their sole defeat coming at the hands of Power 5 Indiana in overtime. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. on ESPN+.

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