Family Weekend at Liberty was not friendly to the Trojans, as they fell to the Flames 22-16 in Lynchburg. With Kaleb Barker done for the season, Troy turned to Sawyer Smith to keep the offense rolling.
Both teams opened the game looking stale on offense, testing the waters of their opponent. After pinning the Flames deep, an ill advised heave by Stephen Calvert led to a Cedarius Rookard interception.
However, the story of the day for Troy was missed opportunities as they immediately turned the ball back over on a Smith run.
After once again trading punts, Troy’s Smith managed to get on a roll as he complete back to back bombs, culminating in a 23-yard TD strike to Deondre Douglas to close out the 1st quarter
The Flames took the kickoff in the 2nd quarter and began a methodical march down the field. A couple of Calvert passes kept the drive alive into Troy territory before a 4th down conversion led to the Flames striking back with a TD pass of their own, this one a 29-yard play action pass to Khaleb Coleman for his second catch of the season to tie the game at 7-7.
With the next drive came our first Gunnar Watson sighting at QB for the Trojans, and with it came some darts in the passing game. After driving the length of the field into the red zone, the drive stalled on a holding call as the Trojans had to settle for a FG to take a 10-7 lead.
Looking to respond, Calvert threw consecutive passes of 15 and 34 yards to get the Flames back into scoring position for RB Peytton Pickett to pound it in to take the lead 14-10.
Jabir Daughtry-Frye took the ensuing kickoff out to midfield to give Troy a chance to score before the half, only to see the offense stall on a three-and-out and pin Liberty deep. Coach Brown decided to use his timeouts to conserve time for the Trojans to get one more shot. The defense held forcing a punt to set the Trojans up in good field position when disaster struck.
Rookard muffed the punt and the Flames recovered. The Flames were unable to capitalize before the half as the teams went into the locker room at the half 14-10.
Troy appeared to get the offense going at the start of the 2nd half, with a 10-play drive culminating in a field goal to make it 14-13 Flames. After forcing a punt, Troy looked set to take the lead before an under-thrown Smith deep ball ended up in the Flames hands.
Once again trading punts, the Trojans showed some signs of life. A Flames punt was returned into Liberty territory by Marcus Jones. BJ Smith proceeded to pound the ball between the tackles, getting them inside the 10 and poised to score. Facing 1st-and-Goal from the nine and having asserted dominance on the ground, Troy decided to finish the drive in the air and promptly threw consecutive incompletions. Tyler Sumpter finished with a field goal to get Troy out in front 16-14.
Pinned deep with just over 6 minutes to play and trailing by a FG, Calvert and the Flames went to work. Calvert moved the chains for 1st downs on 5 passes before settling in at the Troy 9 and first down. A quick fade to the back of the end zone to BJ Farrow as he fought with the Troy defender proved to be the difference to make it 20-16 Flames and a crucial 2pt conversion try. Turner Gill dug into the playbook to the dismay of Patriot’s fans every where as they ran the “Philly Special” to make it a six point game.
Troy had one more chance to steal the game, but was unable to protect the QB with a couple of sacks dooming the game.
Final Score: Liberty 22 Troy 16
This was a bad game for Troy. They looked unfocused, undisciplined, and uptight. The good news is that this wasn’t a conference game, so in the bigger picture it’s a learning experience with no affect on the season’s goal of winning the Sun Belt. The bad news is that the QB situation looks muddy. Sawyer Smith is clearly more of a runner than a passer, as he threw several balls behind or beyond his receivers. Gunnar Watson looks like the better passer, but is limited in mobility for what Coach Brown wants out of his QBs in the running game.
The Flames just held a very good offense to under 300 total yards. This was a unit that gave up 500+ yards in four straight games. Is Turner Gill getting this team turned around? Or was it a blip on the radar?
Troy (5-2, 3-0 SBC) will host South Alabama on a Tuesday night showdown in the Battle for the Belt.
Liberty will take on Idaho State as it continues it’s quest for bowl eligibility.