Troy runs win streak to 9, will host SBC Championship Game

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Troy defeated Southern Miss 35-17 Saturday and will host the Sun Belt Championship Game Dec. 2. (Troy Athletics)

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Troy locked up its second straight 10-win regular season Saturday with a 35-17 victory at Southern Miss in Sun Belt action at M.M. Roberts Stadium. With the victory, Troy will host the 2023 Hercules Tires Sun Belt Championship Game for a second straight year at The Vet.

Troy will host either App State or Coastal Carolina in the title game next Saturday, with kickoff set for 3 p.m. on ESPN.

Troy (10-2, 7-1 SBC) carried a four-point lead into the break and left Southern Miss (3-8, 2-6) in the dust in the second half, outscoring the Golden Eagles 21-7 after the break after outgaining them by a 152-73 margin (-5 yards in the fourth quarter).

The back-to-back 10-win regular seasons are a first for a Troy squad since 1999 and 2000, as the Trojans improved to 12-0 against Sun Belt West Division opponents since moving to the division last season.

Chris Lewis caught a 13-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, which gave Troy a 14-10 lead, and threw a 30-yard scoring strike to Clayton Ollendieck in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.

Kimani Vidal put Troy on the board with a 2-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter and became Troy’s single-season rushing leader on a 16-yard rush down the sideline in the third quarter. He ended the day with 69 yards, pushing his season total to 1,349 yards, surpassing Arrid Gregory’s 1,337 yards set in 1996.

Leading 14-10, Troy got the ball to open the second half and marched 75 yards on 11 plays, capped by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Gunnar Watson to Ethan Conner. It was Conner’s fourth touchdown reception of the season and Watson’s 26th touchdown strike of the year.

Watson completed 21-of-34 passes for 289 yards, pushing him over the 3,000-yard mark for the season, making him and Vidal the third Trojan duo to pass the 3,000-yard and 1,000-yard thresholds in the same season.

Troy’s lead swelled to 28-10 midway through the third quarter on a 40-yard scoop-and-score by Chris Rodgers, the Trojans’ first defensive touchdown since the season opener.

The Trojan defense continued to be a harassing presence for opposing quarterbacks, finishing the game with six sacks, paced by 1.5 from true freshman Malaki Pegues. Javon Solomon got in the mix with Troy’s first of the day, his 14th of the season – the most by a Trojan since Osi Umenyiora in 2002. Troy now has 20 sacks in its last three games.

Frank Gore, the nation’s active leading rusher, finished with 95 yards on 13 carries, including a 57-yard touchdown to pace the Golden Eagles, while Ethan Crawford threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Tiaquelin Mims in the third quarter. Jabre Barber caught six passes for 81 yards to lead Troy, while Lewis finished with four catches for 65 yards. Defensively, Jordan Stringer tied his career-high of 10 tackles and Jayden McDonald added nine.

Quotable – Head Coach Jon Sumrall
“What an effort to do that two years in a row (back-to-back 10-win seasons). Not our best effort today by any stretch of the imagination, but to have back-to-back 10-win seasons, that doesn’t come easy. We found a way to create momentum when we needed to get things going. Proud of our guys for being resilient, bringing their energy and finding a way to win.”

Notable
• Troy improved to 5-8 all-time against Southern Miss. The Trojans have won three of the last four games in the series. Troy is now 4-4 all-time in Hattiesburg and the Trojans have won its last three trips to M.M. Roberts Stadium.

• Troy improved to 15-1 under Jon Sumrall when leading at the half; Troy led Southern Miss 14-10 at the break.

• Troy improved to 16-0 under Jon Sumrall when leading at the end of the third quarter; Troy led Southern Miss 28-17 heading to the fourth quarter.

• Since losing on a Hail Mary at App State in Week 3 last season, Troy is 21-2.

• Troy has outscored its opponents 254-78 over its past eight games.

• Troy is 12-0 against SBC West Division opponents over the last two seasons, Troy joined the West Division in 2022.

• Troy’s victory was its ninth straight overall, the second straight season in which Troy has put together a nine-game winning streak.

• Troy won 10 games in a regular season for the first time at the FBS level and for the first time since 1999 and 2000.

• Troy has won 68 games since the start of the 2016 season; the Trojans entered the weekend with the 17th most wins since 2016.

• Kimani Vidal became Troy’s single-season rushing leader with 1,349 yards after rushing for 69 yards against Southern Miss. He passed Arrid Gregory, who rushed for 1,337 yards in 1996.

• Gunnar Watson passed for 289 yards and two touchdowns in the game to push his season total to 3,141 yards. Watson and Kimani Vidal become the third Troy due to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season: 2016 (Brandon Silvers, Jordan Chunn),  2012 (Corey Robinson, Shawn Southward)

• Gunnar Watson’s streak without throwing an interception came to an end at 208 pass attempts on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half … Remove the Hail Mary; Watson has attempted 227 passes without an interception.

• Gunnar Watson has thrown 15 touchdown passes in his last five games; he had 14 touchdown passes in 2022.

• Troy improved to 47-7 since 2015 when accumulating 400-plus yards of total offense; the Trojans finished with 427 yards against the Golden Eagles. It marked the seventh time in the last nine games Troy reached the 400-yard mark.

• Troy won its 17th straight game when rushing for more than 100 yards and for the 19th time in its last 20 games. Troy rushed for 108 yards against Southern Miss.

• Troy improved to 25-3 when Kimani Vidal rushes for more than 50 yards; he rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

• Troy improved to 14-2 when Gunner Watson throws multiple touchdowns in a game; he threw two against Southern Miss.

• Troy held Southern Miss to just 73 yards in the second half, 37 on the ground and 36 through the air. The Trojans held the Golden Eagles to -5 yards in the fourth quarter.

• Troy held Southern Miss to 286 yards, the Trojans’ eighth opponent this season to finish with fewer than 300 yards. Troy entered the weekend ranked third nationally in the category.

• Troy held Southern Miss to just 17 points, the Trojans’ 18th opponent since 2022 to be held to 19 points or fewer. Troy entered the weekend ranked third nationally in the category.

• Troy forced a pair of turnovers after entering the weekend, leading the country with 186 turnovers forced since the start of the 2016 season. Troy has forced multiple turnovers in 52 games since the start of the 2016 season, the fifth most nationally.

• Troy recorded six sacks in the game; it’s sixth game this season with three-plus sacks. The Trojans have 20 sacks in their last three games.

• Troy finished with 10 tackles for loss as a team, second only to its 11 at ULM two weeks ago. Troy has six or more TFLs in seven straight games.

• Chris Rodgers returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter; it was Troy’s first defensive touchdown since the season opener and first fumble return for a touchdown since the 2022 ULM game.

• Frank Gore’s 57-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was the longest play from scrimmage allowed by the Trojans this season … the first play of 50-plus yards allowed.

• Troy entered the weekend eighth since the start of the 2022 season, allowing just 4.20 points per game in the fourth quarter; the Trojans held Southern Miss scoreless in the final 15 minutes.