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Led by Defense, Troy Stifles UTSA en route to an 18-12 Cure Bowl Victory

One of the nation’s leading defenses led the way in giving Troy a record 12th win.

NCAA Football: Cure Bowl-Troy at Texas at San Antonio Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

The “Triangle of Toughness” has been a calling-card mantra for Jeff Traylor and his UTSA Roadrunner program since he took over in 2020 — with the select players chosen to wear and represent the numbers 210 — the area code that covers San Antonio.

Whether or not his club was out “toughed” by Troy is up for debate. However, they had no chance of being able to beat the Trojans at their style of game while committing several penalties and turnovers that undoubtedly cost the Roadrunners a chance at a bowl victory.

Jon Sumrall and his Troy (12-2, 7-1) came into Saturday’s Duluth Trading Cure Bowl as three-point underdogs, but spearheaded by an excellent defensive performance upset favored UTSA (11-3, 8-0) 18-12, holding the high-powered Roadrunners to their lowest scoring output of the season.

“To hold these guys to 12 points, I don’t know what to say,” said Sumrall. “Defensively, we stayed together all year, and I could not be more proud of these guys. I just hope they keep us in the Top 25.”

The victory gives the Trojans an program-record 12th victory at the FBS level and caps an unlikely first season at the helm for Sumrall.

Entering the contest, the major storyline was how would Traylor’s club who averaged 38.7 points per game, fare against a Troy defense that allowed only 17.5 points on the season, ranking eighth in the nation.

It was apparent from the early-going that points would be at a premium.

Both teams traded punts for the majority of the first quarter and the first scoring of the game was a byproduct of a 67-yard boot by Roadrunners punter Lucas Dean — that landed at the Troy four-yard-line. Two plays later, Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson appeared to not be ready for the shotgun snap and the ball sailed wide of him and through the back of the endzone for a safety.

The ensuing drive would see UTSA quarterback Frank Harris methodically march the Roadrunners offense 75 yards on 15 plays. Conference USA’s Offensive Player of the Year, Harris completed 7-of-10 attempts on the drive, culminating with him finding star wideout Zakhari Franklin from two yards out to extend the UTSA lead to nine.

Troy’s offensive struggles were pronounced during the first half and their next two drives saw the Trojans go three-and-out and punting back to the Roadrunners. Sumrall’s club wouldn’t make it past the midfield until the 3:52 mark of the 2nd quarter.

However, Harris and the Roadrunners’ offense couldn’t find touchdowns despite driving deep into Troy territory and would have to settle for a Jared Sackett 42-yard field goal to extend their lead to 12-0.

Arguably the most pivotal moment of the first half came with 1:37 left in the second quarter. After sustaining their best drive of the game up to that point, Watson looked for Deyunkrea Lewis but was picked off by seventh-year UTSA defensive back Clifford Chatman at the UTSA 16-yard-line. Chatman was ruled by officials to have taken two steps and fumbled the interception, which was recovered by Troy at the UTSA 10. With the second life, the Trojans cashed in as running back Kimani Vidal scored from two yards out to give Troy their first score of the game.

The Troy defense would intercept Harris on the ensuring drive as edge-rusher Richard Jibunor would step in front of a pass intended for wideout Tykee Ogle-Kellogg — and the score would remain 12-7 entering the half.

The game’s second half was dominated by a Troy defense that forced three UTSA turnovers and five total on the evening.

On the opening drive of the second half, Jibunor would strip-sack and recover the fumble of Harris at the UTSA 34. Jibunor finished the game with two tackles, but the timely sack and interception.

The next UTSA miscue came on a first-down completion from Harris to tight end Oscar Cardenas, who fumbled at the Troy 40-yard-line.

Overall, the Roadrunners amassed 345 yards on the night — well shy of the 486 that the potent offense entered the contest averaging.

Despite the turnovers, Troy was unable to find any real success on offense with the additional chances and the next Trojan drive was a three-and-out.

Again, UTSA would drive deep into Troy territory — only to be undone by a turnover. At the Trojans 9, Harris was intercepted by Trojans linebacker K.J. Robertson, who returned the pass 61 yards down the sideline. Harris finished the contest going 23-of-42 for 198 yards with one touchdown and the two interceptions.

Adding to the mistake was Cardenas, who was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pushing a Troy defender in the back at the conclusion of the play — setting the Troy offense to start at the UTSA 22.

Four plays later, Watson hit wideout RaJae’ Johnson for a 12-yard touchdown score to give Troy its first lead of the game. The two-point try was good when Watson found tight end Clayton Ollendieck to give the team a 15-12 advantage.

Watson’s performance was pedestrian at best, but enough to guide his team to victory, going 13-of-23 for 113 yards with the TD pass and two interceptions.

After a three-and-out, Troy took over and appeared to be stopped near midfield. However, Sumrall chose to fake the punt, instead quick-snapping to Vidal, who converted the 4th-and-2 and extending the Trojans drive.

The fake punt was big there at the end — that added some excitement,” said Sumrall. “I wanted to get a touchdown there and put it away, but we hung in there.”

Watson found wide receiver Tez Johnson for back-to-back first down conversions to put the offense at the UTSA 33, before the drive appeared to stall out on fourth down. Yet another self-inflicted wound hurt the Roadrunners as reserve defensive lineman Asyrus Simon was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct, extending drive that would end in a 27-yard Brooks Buce field goal to extend the lead to 18-12.

The final nail in the coffin for Traylor’s club came on the Roadrunners’ penultimate offensive drive of the contest.

After running back Kevorian Barnes ripped off a 53-yard gain to put UTSA at the Troy 5, Barnes would gain two more yards — followed by three straight incompletions. Wideout Chris Carpenter let the potential go-ahead score slip out of his hands on second down, two UTSA receivers ran into each other on third down and Franklin was unable to haul in the fourth-down try.

UTSA would get one last shot on offense without any timeouts, but didn’t get any further than the Trojans’ 42-yard-line before turning the ball over on downs.

The win caps what’s been an improbable debut campaign for Sumrall as Troy’s head coach and sends UTSA off to the American Athletic Conference still in search of their first bowl victory.