Troy Claims 2022 Hercules Tires Sun Belt Football Championship
Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, December 6, 2022
On the one-year anniversary of his first team meeting as Troy’s head coach, Sun Belt Coach of the Year Jon Sumrall led his team to the 2022 Hercules Tires Sun Belt Conference Football Championship on his home field.
Troy scored on five of its first six drives, jumping out to a 31-0 advantage, and never trailed Saturday en route to claiming the league title. The Trojans earned a 45-26 win against Coastal Carolina on Saturday in front of 21,554 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“A year ago today is the first time I had a team meeting here in this room with the guys about the direction we were about to take this thing,” Sumrall said. “I wanted them to understand that things weren’t going to be the same and we were going to work harder than they’d ever worked. They bought in. We invest deeply in relationships with our players and care deeply about them.”
Troy (11-2) extended its win streak to 10 games. For the Trojans, it is their seventh all-time Sun Belt Football Championship and their third outright Sun Belt crown. Troy’s seventh all-time Sun Belt Football Championship marks the most by any program in league history.
“I’m really proud of our guys for their toughness through adversity,” Sumrall said. “This bunch has earned it. They’ve adjusted to a lot of new things and changes that were probably uncomfortable at first. I could not be more proud to be the head coach of the Troy Trojans.”
Troy’s 10-game winning streak – its longest at the FBS level – is the first for the Trojans since an 11-game spree in 1995. The streak began after the team started the season 1-2, including a heartbreaking 32-28 loss at App State on Sept. 17.
Troy’s junior quarterback Gunnar Watson was named the Hercules Tires Sun Belt Football Championship Game Most Valuable Player. He completed 12-of-17 passes for 318 yards with three touchdown strikes. It was his fifth career three touchdown performance.
“I think we had a really good plan for them,” Watson said. “It just seemed like everything was going right for us. I think when we came out the first drive and got a field goal, next drive we scored, momentum was on our side and we kept rolling with it.”
Wide receiver RaJae’ Johnson caught four passes for 134 yards with a pair of touchdowns. His 134 receiving yards marked a Sun Belt Football Championship Game record. Fellow receiver Deshon Stoudemire had three catches for 99 yards with a touchdown. Running back DK Billingsley rushed for three touchdowns on 57 total yards, moving him into 10th place in Troy school history for career rushing touchdowns.
Troy’s star linebacker Carlton Martial, the 2022 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, is the all-time leading tackler in NCAA FBS history. He finished with nine tackles on Saturday to give him Troy’s all-divisions school record for career tackles with 563.
“When I lay my head down on my pillow, I think I’ll be satisfied,” Martial said.
Coastal Carolina (9-3), which is 31-6 since the start of the 2020 campaign, lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2019.
“First of all, let’s congratulate Jon and his staff and his team,” Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “They’re champions; they’ve earned that. They’ve had a tremendous season and they came out and really took it to us from the opening drive. We could not respond at all there in the first half. I was proud of our team trying to come back there in the second half. I thought we showed a lot of effort, a lot of fight. I was disappointed in the outcome, but I’m not disappointed in this team.”
Chanticleers’ quarterback Grayson McCall, the three-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year who had not seen game action since being injured in his team’s Nov. 3 contest against App State, completed 29-of-41 passes for 319 yards with three touchdowns. He became Coastal’s all-time leader in career touchdowns responsible for and extended his streak to at least one touchdown pass in 23 consecutive games.
Troy opened the scoring with a field goal on the game’s opening drive, completing a nine-play, 57-yard series with a 35-yard field goal by Brooks Buce.
After forcing Coastal Carolina into a three-and-out in the next series, Troy’s Stoudemire hauled in a pass from Watson for a 65-yard score that gave the Trojans a 10-0 advantage.
On its third drive of the game, Troy’s Billingsley rushed for an eight-yard touchdown that completed a four-play, 62-yard drive. The Trojans led 17-0 after the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Billingsley ran in his second touchdown of the game with a 33-yard rush for score to extend Troy’s advantage to 24-0.
Less than three minutes later, Johnson snared a pass from Watson and ran it in 67 yards for the touchdown with 9:47 remaining in the second quarter. That marked the longest touchdown reception in Sun Belt Football Championship Game history and put the Trojans in front 31-0.
With 29 seconds remaining until halftime, Coastal Carolina put its first points on the board when McCall called his own number and ran eight yards for the touchdown.
Troy held a 31-7 advantage at intermission.
The Chanticleers scored quickly out of halftime as McCall found Jared Brown, the 2022 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, down the middle for a 30-yard touchdown strike, but the two-point conversion effort failed.
Troy scored twice more in the third quarter, first when Johnson caught his second touchdown pass of the day, a 36-yard reception from Watson to put Troy ahead 38-13.
On the next series, McCall fumbled for Coastal Carolina and Troy recovered on its own seven-yard line. Eight plays later, Billingsley rushed up the middle for a three-yard touchdown – his third of the day. That gave the Trojans a 45-13 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
McCall threw for a pair of scores in the fourth quarter to make the final 45-26 margin. The first was an 11-yard toss to Sam Pinckney and the second was a 21-yard reception by Tyson Mobley.
• The all-time series between Coastal Carolina and Troy is now tied 3-3. The Chanticleers had won three consecutive meetings in the series before Saturday’s win by the Trojans.
• The home team is undefeated in the Sun Belt Football Championship with the host institution winning each of the four Sun Belt Football Championship Games.
• The match-up between Coastal Carolina and Troy marked the only conference football championship game in the nation that featured both teams with two-or-fewer losses.
• Troy’s 7-0 record at home ties the school record for best home record with the 1996 squad.
• Troy set a season attendance record with an average of 25,661 fans per contest. The Trojans set the school single-game attendance record against Army on Nov. 12 with 31,010 fans.
• Troy has won 57 games since the start of the 2016 season, which ranks tied for 21st-most in the nation and during that time and seventh most among non-Autonomy 5 conferences.