ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Gunnar Watson’s 12-yard scoring pass to RaJae’ Johnson in the third period put No. 23 Troy ahead to stay, and the Trojans forced five turnovers in an 18-12 come-from-behind win over No. 22 UTSA in the Duluth Trading Cure Bowl on Friday.
Troy (12-2), the Sun Belt Conference champion, closed out the season with 11 straight victories and set a school record for wins in a season.
“Twelve-2, 11 straight wins, conference champs, first time we’ll ever be ranked to end a season,” Troy coach Jon Sumrall said. “This team has done some things that have never been done. We’re going to take a few days and appreciate it. Then we’re going to get ready for 2023.”
Conference USA champ UTSA (11-3) outgained Troy 345-166 and led 12-0 in the first half, but turnovers proved to be the difference.
Troy linebacker K.J. Robertson picked off a pass by UTSA’s Frank Harris near the goal line in the third quarter. Robertson returned the interception 61 yards, with a 15-yard personal foul penalty tacked on at the end, and the pick set up the go-ahead score.
“I was hauling,” Robertson said. “That’s the fastest I’ve ever ran … like ever. It was awesome. It was a great feeling.”
Watson’s TD pass to Johnson gave the Trojans a 13-12 lead, and a 2-point conversion pass to tight end Clayton Ollendieck made it 15-12 with 2:43 remaining in the third quarter.
Watson was 13-for-23 passing for 113 yards. Kimani Vidal rushed for 73 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown.
“That was not an easy win,” Troy coach Jon Sumrall said. “That was a tough hard-fought win. I think both teams should be ranked in the top 25.”
Vidal scored on a 2-yard rush with 50 seconds left in the first half to pull Troy within 12-7.
The Roadrunners took a 2-0 lead in the first quarter on a safety when Troy center Jake Andrews snapped the ball before Watson was ready and the ball bounded through the end zone.
Harris connected with Zakhari Franklin for a 2-yard scoring pass early in the second quarter to make it 9-0.
“We thought it would be a low-scoring, NFL-type football game,” UTSA coach Jeff Traylor said. “That’s what it was.”
Jared Sackett added a 42-yard field goal at 6:41 of the second quarter to extend UTSA’s lead to 12-0.
Harris went 23 for 42 for 198 yards, with an interception and a TD. Kevorian Barnes rushed for 132 yards on 21 carries.
Barnes’ 53 yard run in the fourth quarter gave the Roadrunners a first-and-goal at the Troy 5, but three straight incompletions led to a turnover on downs with 7:01 remaining.
“Lack of execution on third down, dropped some passes, lost some battles up front where they stripped us,” Traylor said. “Missed opportunities. It was as good a performance from our defense as I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Two very good defenses tonight.”
SPECIAL MVP PERFORMANCE
Robertson also had nine tackles and was named the game’s MVP. It was a special moment for the senior as he got to play in front of his 2-year-old daughter, Layla Drew Robertson, for the first time.
“Win, lose or draw I just wanted to have my daughter see me play one time,” Robertson said. “Even if she won’t remember it, I thought it was great.”
FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT
Troy successfully executed a fake punt in the fourth quarter when Vidal lined up in protection and took the snap on a fourth-and-2 and rushed for four yards. The drive ended with a field goal to make the score 18-12.
“We’ve been practicing that since August 15,” Sumrall said. “We’ve prepared that twice a week for about 20 weeks now. We went down and kicked a field goal. I was a little ticked off that we couldn’t get a touchdown there.”
BEST OF THE BEST
The 22-combined victories between Troy and UTSA are the most of any non-playoff bowl game matchup this year. This is also the only bowl matchup to pit two conference champions against each other.
UTSA: Penalties and turnovers doomed the Roadrunners. They were penalized eight times for 89 yards with several personal fouls. Harris threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
Troy: The Trojans got down to their defensive roots and forced UTSA into some uncharacteristic mistakes. They made just enough plays on offense from Watson.
UTSA: The Roadrunners will move from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference in 2023. Quarterback Frank Harris, who holds 34 records at the school, announced he will return for his seventh season.
Troy: The Trojans will remain in the Sun Belt and try to set another school record for wins under Sumrall.