STATESBORO, GA (WSFA) - The Troy Trojans were looking to maintain first place in the eastern division of the Sun Belt Conference, and that’s just what they did. The Trojans (8-2, 6-0) defeated Georgia Southern (7-3, 4-2) 35-21 in Paulson Stadium.
They were up against another of the East division’s juggernauts in the Georgia Southern Eagles.
Troy trailed after the first quarter, just the second time that’s happened all year.
The Trojan defense forced Georgia Southern to punt to open the game and then The Trojans struck first on a Tyler Sumpter field goal.
But the remainder of the quarter was all Eagles. They used a 29-yard run by Monterro Garrett to move the ball into Trojan territory and then a big 44-yard pass got the Eagles to inside the Troy 10. The drive was capped off with a Shai Werts to Ellis Richardson 3-yard touchdown pass to take the lead.
Then, after Troy forced another Eagles punt, Trojan quarterback Sawyer Smith fumbled the rock on the first play and Georgia Southern recovered, and turned it into points.
Once again, it was Werts throwing a touchdown pass Richardson, and the Trojans found themselves up against a 14-3 wall.
Neal Brown’s offense answered in a big way on their next possession. With the second quarter having just started, Brown dialed up some trick plays in an attempt to swing the momentum back in Troy’s favor.
One of those trick plays came on a fourth down in which Sawyer Smith found himself on the receiving end, and the chains moved for a first down. It was part of a 12-play, 85-yard scoring drive.
Tray Eafford finished the drive off with a 3-yard rush and Troy was back in it, only down 14-10.
The defense came up huge, after Georgia Southern looked poised to push their lead back up, the Troy defense stood tall to force a Georgia Southern punt with 5:36 left in the first half.
Troy then turned in a 93-yard drive to move back ahead, highlighted by a B.J. Smith touchdown rush with 3:21 left on the clock. It was as drive that was already over if you blinked, lasting just 2:15. Two huge receptions by Luke Whittemore to get the Trojans out of their own end zone and then into Georgia Southern territory helped set the Trojans up.
The two receptions were part of Whittemore’s big day. His two receptions on the drive combined for 81 of his 100-plus yard receiving day.
Now ahead, 17-14, the Troy defense looked to settle in. After Smith’s 11th rushing touchdown of the season, the defense forced another Eagles punt to get the ball back with 2:47 to play in the half.
With another shot to put points on the board before the break, but couldn’t answer. Sumpter missed a field goal try, only his first miss in his last 10 kicks, and Troy carried a 17-14 lead into the break.
After the break, both teams traded punts to open the third before Sumpter got back on track, nailing a 42-yard field goal to push Troy’s lead up to a touchdown.
The part about Troy’s defense looking to settle in this game; they did it. And then Neal Brown turned the jets on with his offense.
Whittemore continued his spectacular performance Saturday with a 29-yard touchdown reception to increase Troy’s lead. Troy went for two and converted, giving the East division leaders a two-score advantage at 28-14 with 3:39 in the third.
To open the fourth, B.J. Smith posted his second rushing score of the game, breaking in for six from 10 yards out and Troy had posted 32 straight unanswered points on their way to a 35-14 lead.
Smith would see his streak of consecutive games of 100 yards rushing snapped, but that’s neither here nor there.
Georgia Southern tried to make a push, snapping Troy’s scoring streak with an 18-yard touchdown run by Werts to cut Troy’s lead back to two scores still with 11 minutes left in the contest.
Troy’s next drive wouldn’t net points but it sure did eat a ton of time off the clock - and very possibly icing the game. The drive ended in Sumpter’s second missed field goal of the day, but it concluded a 13-play drive that lasted 7 minutes and 44 seconds, turning the ball back over to the Eagles with 3:29 to play in the game.
The Trojans turned them over on downs and ended the game.
The 35-21 win moved Troy one step closer to representing the East division in the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Championship game Dec. 1.
Sawyer Smith finished with 287 yards passing and a touchdown, and B.J. Smith finished with 86 yards rushing to go along with his two scores.
Up next, Troy hosts Texas State for Senior Day. That game will kick at 2:30 p.m next Saturday.