TROY, AL (WSFA) - On Senior Day in Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, the Troy Trojans were playing for an opportunity to provide their parting cast with more memories before their departure. The Trojans (9-2, 7-0) took care of business, holding on to beat Texas State (3-8, 1-6) 12-7.
Troy head coach Neal Brown in his weekly presser said his team was in “survive and advance” mode and Saturday was indicative of that. Troy was looking to get the win by any means necessary in order to set up the decisive final regular season game of the season.
Kicker-punter extraordinaire Tyler Sumpter opened the scoring with a 36-yard field goal for Troy after the defense forced a stop on Texas State’s opening drive.
It was the beginning of a huge day for the sophomore from Hoover.
On Senior Day it was senior Cedarius Rookard shining under the lights of the Vet for Troy. Rookard notched two interceptions in the first quarter, and on back-to-back possessions. When Texas State looked to answer Troy’s field goal, Rookard made a play, intercepting a Tyler Vitt pass on the 16-yard line.
After the Trojan offense couldn’t turn Rookard’s first INT into points, he granted them a mulligan with a second interception. With that, the offense was forced off the field in just three plays and a Texas State team that entered giving up 30.4 points per game on the road was off to a good start.
The problem for the Bobcats was that the Troy defense - much like all season - was an immovable object. The Trojans held the Bobcats scoreless in the first and the Troy offense opened the second quarter threatening in Texas State territory.
Texas State’s defense didn’t fold either, allowing Sumpter’s second field goal of the game with 13:20 to play but nothing more. on Troy’s drive.
Trailing 6-0 the Bobcat offense turned it on. Vitt completed a pass on 3rd and 10 for 18 yards to Keenen Brown to move the sticks and then another 18-yard pass and catch on 2nd and 21 set up a Javen Banks 13-yard reception on 3rd and short to move the Bobcats into Trojan territory.
From there, it the Trojan defense had enough. A forced incompletion on first down led to a sack of Vitt on second down. Vitt fumbled but the Bobcats luckily recovered but faced another 3rd-and-long situation.
On third down, Vitt threw his third pass of the day to a Troy defender. This time it was Hunter Reese who joined in on the fun. The senior from Wetumpka, Alabama, intercepted Vitt’s pass and returned it 15 yards to set Troy up at the Texas State 38.
Looking to put a touchdown on the board, the Trojan offense struggled again and Sumpter swooped in with his third field goal of the day to push the Trojan lead to 9-0 with 8:51 remaining in the first half.
It was a pick party for the Troy defense. Tyler Murray accounted for Troy’s fourth interception of first half, intercepting Vitt to once again set the offense up in excellent territory, but the Troy offense continued to struggle without senior wide receiver Damion Willis, who was sidelined with injury for Saturday’s game.
Caleb Twyford set Texas State up in excellent position with a 41-yard run to the Troy 39, but then the defense shut the Bobcat offense down and force a punt.
The turnover parade continued for Texas State as the Bobcats looked to score before half. It was an afternoon made for Cedarius Rookard. He forced his third turnover of the afternoon, a fumble, that Tyler Murray recovered and set the a Troy offense in motion looking to find its groove before the half.
Troy back B.J. Smith became the 10th 1,000-yard rusher in the school’s history in the first half. He entered the game needing only 54 yards to do so. He finished the game with 94 yards on 24 carries.
After the fumble, the Trojans went three-and-out for the fifth time of the first half to end the half, and entered the break looking to make adjustments.
A Texas State team that entered allowing 375 yards per game on the road had held the Troy offense to 106 total yards. 60 passing and 46 rushing yards to be exact.
Troy got the ball to open the second half and with that opportunity, went three-and-out for the sixth time in the game.
The Bobcats matched the Trojans with a three-and-out of their own, punting away and pinning Troy on its own 14 to start its second drive of the half.
To sum the third quarter up in one word for both teams: Punt.
It was a real snooze fest offensively but both defensive coordinators loved the effort their 11 players showed. For Troy it meant keeping Texas State at arms length, and for the Bobcats it meant keeping the Trojans close enough where one score from the offense would mean a lot.
Blace Brown intervened momentarily for the Trojans to intercept Troy’s fifth pass of the game.
Finally, the Trojans seemed to find themselves offensively as a series of runs pushed the Trojans into the red zone towards the end of the third.
Troy’s possession extended into the fourth quarter, capping a scoreless third frame. The Trojans finished their 14-play, 8-minute 16-second drive with a score, but it was how all of their scoring drives had ended Saturday - a Tyler Sumpter field goal.
Sumpter’s fourth field goal of the afternoon pushed Troy’s lead to 12-0 with 11:46 to play.
The Bobcats would be held scoreless no longer.
Next drive out, the Texas State rushed its way into Trojan territory before Vitt completed a 38-yard pass to his receiver at the Troy 3. The Bobcats would punch it in with 3-yard score by Anthony Taylor and all of a sudden it was 12-7 with 9:10 remaining.
Needing to produce points next drive out, or at least just stay on the field long enough for the defense to catch its breath, the Troy offense went out and produced one first down before being forced to punt it away with 5:58 to play in the game.
Could the Trojan defense come up with another stop? It was certainly the task set before them. After already having forced six turnovers, the defense still needed to come up with a clutch stop for the Trojans to won.
The defense got the Texas State offense into a 3rd and 3 on its own 21, then a false start pushed them back five yards. On 3rd and 8, Vitt rushed for 18 yards to move the chains.
In the next series of plays, the Trojans had the Bobcats in a 3rd and 15. This time on third down, the Trojans were able to sack Vitt and force Texas State to punt on 4th and 19.
The Troy offense had the ball back with 2:21 left in the game. On its own 27, the Trojans could seal it with a pair of first downs.
With three timeouts, Texas State used one to stop the clock on third down and 1:27 remaining in the game. On 3rd and 8, Sawyer Smith picked up 11 yards and a first down to now tip the scales more in Troy’s favor.
Texas State called its second timeout with 38 seconds left and its third timeout with 32 seconds left with Troy facing third down.
Troy kneeled the ball and the game came to an end, moving Troy’s consecutive conference win streak to 13 games.
The win also means next Saturday’s game against App State will determine which East division team represents the Sun Belt in the inaugural Sun Belt Conference championship game.
The Trojans and Mountaineers will tee things off from Boone, North Carolina, at 1:30 p.m.