Sparked by five fourth-quarter touchdowns in a Saturday 48-19 win at Arkansas State, the Troy Trojans are going to the Sun Belt Conference championship game – at home at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The Trojans (10-2, 7-1) clinched the conference’s Western Division title with the victory and earned the right to host the title game next Saturday against Coastal Carolina, the East Division champ who stunningly was routed by James Madison 47-7 earlier Saturday.
Troy had to win later Saturday afternoon to clinch the west title after South Alabama defeated Old Dominion 27-20 earlier Saturday. The teams ended tied with 7-1 conference marks, but Troy won a tie-breaker off a head-to-head 10-6 win on Oct. 20.
Coastal Carolina, as a No. 23 ranked team going into the day, was likely to host the conference title game had it won Saturday, but the Chanticleers lost the opportunity with their loss, opening the door for Troy.
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The championship game is set for 2:30 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Stadium and will be televised by ESPN.
“It is our first Sun Belt division championship since we have gone to two divisions in this conference,” Troy head coach Jon Sumrall said in his radio postgame show. “To be able to get that game in Troy, Alabama, is pretty awesome. I am proud of our guys for continuing to compete each week to get to host. We needed some help from the other side to get it, but I couldn’t be more fired up with our guys for creating that opportunity.”
Trailing 19-14 going into the fourth quarter, Troy surged behind three Kimani Vidal touchdowns and a 67-yard interception return by Reddy Steward to turn the close game into a rout.
Vidal, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week, might be in line for the honor again this week after scoring four Trojan touchdowns and rushing for 208 yards, his second straight 200-yard game in as many weeks.
“Kimani has gotten better and better the last two weeks,” Sumrall said.
Vidal, a sophomore, started the fourth quarter Troy outburst with a 1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the final quarter to put the Trojans up 20-19. Steward then provided his game-momentum changing interception return to increase Troy’s lead before Vidal scored on runs of 12 and 39 yards as the Trojans pulled away.
Damien Taylor, a freshman, posted the last score with 1:02 left on a 3-yard run as subs for both teams were in the game.
“The pick by Reddy was a big catalyst,” Sumrall said. “Once we got in rhythm and in sync offensively, we were rolling. It just took us a little time.
“The good news is we have been there before. I walked in at halftime (down 13-7) and I knew we were going to win the game. I didn’t have any doubt we were going to win the game. I knew we were going to win. I didn’t know we were going to win as big as we did with that margin, but I had because we had been there (in that situation) before – Louisiana-Lafayette and Army and time and time again. We were not in unchartered territory.”
The teams traded scores most of the day until the final period, resulting in four lead changes.
The Red Wolves opened the scoring with a 20-yard field goal from Dominic Zvada less than three minutes in, but the Trojans surged ahead with six seconds left in the quarter on a 1-yard Vidal touchdown run and Brooks Buce’s point after kick, which made it 7-3 Trojans.
Arkansas State closed the gap to 7-6 when Zvada booted a 21-yard field goal with 6:37 left in the second quarter.
The Red Wolves then took the lead late in the half, capitalizing on a Trojan fumble with a 30-yard scoring run by quarterback James Blackmon with 1:37 left for a 13-7 advantage.
Troy surged in front with a 21-yard Gunnar Watson to RaJae’ Johnson touchdown pass with 4:49 to go in the third and a Buce point after kick, pushing the Trojans up 14-13. However, the Red Wolves answered on the next series with back-up quarterback AJ Mayer tossing a 1-yard TD pass to tight end Reed Tyler. A try for two failed, but Arkansas State led 19-14 with 1:31 left in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was all Trojans, though.
Watson threw for 144 yards off 9-of-15 passing with one TD. Johnson caught three passes for 101 yards. In addition to Vidal’s 208 yards rushing, DK Billingsley had 52 yards rushing on nine carries as the Trojans finished with 268 yards on the ground and 412 total yards.
Cartial Martial, who gutted through an injury to play in the first half, had six solo tackles and three assists and TJ Harris had four solos and five assists to lead the defense.
Blackmon threw for 220 yards on 20-of-35 passing for Arkansas State, but had no touchdowns and the one costly interception.
Troy held the Arkansas State running game to 38 yards on 20 carries.
James Madison 47, No. 23 Coastal Carolina 7
Todd Centeio threw for four touchdowns and ran for one score as James Madison romped against Coastal Carolina in what the Dukes viewed as their postseason game.
JMU (8-3, 6-2 Sun Belt) earned a technical share of the league’s East Division title with the same conference record as the Chanticleers, but the Dukes are not eligible for a title under terms of their transition to the Bowl Subdivision.
The Chanticleers (9-2, 6-2) were the first visitor in the AP Top 25 to ever play at Bridgeforth Stadium, but did so without starting quarterback Grayson McCall. Their only score came on their second drive on Jarrett Guest’s 34-yard pass to Tyson Mobley.
South Alabama 27, Old Dominion 20
Carter Bradley threw three touchdown passes and South Alabama held Old Dominion scoreless in the second half to rally for its fifth-straight win, 27-20 win on Saturday.
Old Dominion’s Jason Henderson had 18 tackles, giving him 186 for the season, a total only exceeded by the 193 of Lawrence Flugence of Texas Tech in 2012 and the 191 of Luke Kuechly of Boston College a year earlier. Henderson had double-figure tackles in every game — with a high of 22 — except for getting just two last week before suffering an injury.
The Jaguars (10-2, 7-1 Sun Belt) trailed the Monarchs (3-9, 2-6) 20-13 at halftime as Hayden Wolff threw a pair of touchdown passes for Old Dominion.
Then Bradley engineered a pair of long touchdown drives with an interception, the only turnover of the game, between them.
First the Jags went 83 yards in 12 plays with Jalen Wayne hauling in a 30-yard scoring pass. After his pick, Bradley found DJ Thomas-Jones for a two-yard score to end a 15-play, 69 yard drive.
After scoring on four of five possessions in the first half, Old Dominion only got the ball four times in the second, punting on the first three and giving up the ball on downs at the South Alabama 41 with 1:46 to play on the last.
The Monarchs only had 69 of their 381 yards on the second half. South Alabama had 398 yards but kept the ball more than 10 minutes longer.
La’Damian Webb had 74 yards rushing for South Alabama to surpass 1,000 for the season.