Late TD lifts Troy past Arkansas State for share in SBC title

Michael Shipma

Staff Writer

In typical “Fun Belt” fashion, the Troy football team scored with 17 seconds left in the game to come back and defeat Arkansas State 32-25 on Saturday night to lay claim to a share in the Sun Belt Conference Championship.

After giving up two touchdowns and squandering a 24-13 lead in the final three minutes of the game, the Trojans marched down the field to the tune of a nine-play, 72-yard game winning drive that ended with quarterback Brandon Silvers throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Deondre Douglas.

The score gave Troy a 30-25 lead, and after a successful two-point conversion, gave the visitors a seven-point lead.

It was Douglas’ second critical catch of the drive, which came following a 19-yard reception on fourth down to extend the drive.

Troy’s game-winning score came after Red Wolves quarterback Justice Hansen tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass with 1:28 left in the game that gave Arkansas State a 25-24 lead and what appeared to be a sure victory. However, on the ensuing drive, with no timeouts left, Troy used the sidelines and injuries on both sides to its advantage to extend the game and secure the program’s sixth Sun Belt Conference Championship.

The title is also third-year Head Coach Neal Brown’s first at Troy, and gave his team their second consecutive season of at least 10 wins. After fellow title contender Appalachian State dismantled Louisiana 63-14 earlier in the day, Troy will share the Sun Belt trophy with the Mountaineers.

The Trojans struggled in the first half of the conference’s de facto championship game, but thanks to a pair of non-offensive touchdowns from freshman cornerback Marcus Jones and an offense that did just enough, Troy exacted its revenge on a Red Wolves team that defeated Troy 35-3 last year and stole any hopes of it continuing an historic AP Top-25 run.

In Saturday’s win, Jones became just the second FBS player this season to score both a kickoff and defensive touchdown in the same game. His 99-yard kickoff return early in the first quarter gave Troy its first points and a 7-3 lead, while his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Trojans a 24-13 lead midway through the fourth.

Silvers, who struggled to find any rhythm in the first half, bounced back after halftime to total 23 completions on 41 attempts for 246 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That offensive effort was aided by freshman kicker Tyler Sumpter, who despite missing from 38 yards out in the fourth quarter, hit a 37-yarder that tied the game at 10 each in the third.

Just behind Douglas’ team-high 74 receiving yards, freshman receiver Tray Eafford caught three passes for 70 yards and a third-quarter touchdown that gave the Trojans a 17-13 lead.

Defensively, the Trojans produced key stops throughout the game, forcing three turnovers, four sacks and holding Arkansas State to four of eight scores inside the red zone.

The most glaring statistics, however, that made Troy’s win improbable were its defense giving up 606 yards of total offense on 94 plays that included 32 first downs.

Despite early and late surges from the hosts, Troy escaped Jonesboro, Arkansas, with a victory, a conference title and – due to Louisiana’s loss – a strong likelihood for getting an invite to the R+L Carriers Bowl in New Orleans.

All that, as well as the rest of the bowl schedule and playoff teams, will be announced tomorrow at 11 a.m. CDT on ESPN.

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