The 2022 Sun Belt football season was a blast! There was a fight to the finish to determine division champions and bowl game teams. We saw early upsets of big-name teams, a few teams from the conference getting ranked in the top-25, and even a double-overtime game between two huge rivals to determine who would play a bowl game to end the season. Ultimately, a decision could not be made for the division champions: Coastal Carolina (9-2 overall, 6-2 SBC) and newcomers James Madison (8-3 overall, 6-2 SBC) shared the Eastern division title, while Troy (10-2 overall, 7-1 SBC) and South Alabama (10-2 overall, 7-1 SBC) shared the Western division title.
Coastal Carolina and Troy were chosen to play in the 2022 Sun Belt Conference Championship. Coastal Carolina clinched their place all the way back in Week 11 with a win over Southern Miss. Troy had to still wait until Week 13 to clinch their place, and they were the Western division representative due to holding a tiebreaker win over state rivals South Alabama. They also were the hosts due to having a better conference record. Let’s see how this battle between two elite SBC teams played out!
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Move Out of the Way!
I can imagine that’s the message TROY was looking to put out with the way things went in the first quarter! The Trojans’ offense scored on their first three drives of the quarter and the defense shut out the Chanticleers along the way. CCAR would also not hold the ball for long early in the game, which is just a double whammy… TROY TE Deyunkrea Lewis and WR Tez Johnson combined for 50 of the team’s 57-yard first drive. K Brooks Buce would cap the drive off with a 35-yard FG.
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In three drives, CCAR would only get one first down and face a loss of yards through a sack, fumble, and negative-yardage catch. TROY WR Deshon Stoudemire would have a 65-yard receiving TD, while WR RaJae’ Johnson (27-yard catch) and RB DK Billingsley (eight-yard rushing TD) would combine for another quick TD drive. All this combined for a 17-0 TROY lead by the end of the quarter. A holding penalty and sack-fumble prevented TROY from going for a fourth score, resulting in their first punt of the game.
Just Keep Chugging Along
The Trojans just picked up where they left off after scoring two more TDs in relatively quick succession. After a short CCAR punt, Billingsley punched in his second TD (a 33-yard run) in two plays. Despite two penalties against them, one during the second CCAR punt and another on offense, TROY had yet another TD scored. This one was on fourth-and-three at their own 33-yard line, a 67-yard catch by R. Johnson! Just like that, it was 31-0.
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There was finally some life shown by CCAR with 9:47 left in the second quarter. They would get into Trojans territory, the 37-yard line to be precise, but QB Grayson McCall could not convert on fourth-and-11. I guess they wanted to show some aggressiveness by chasing the touchdown and not just a score, which is why they eschewed what would be a 54-yard FG. It’s also possible that the FG was too long for their liking. They were helped out on defense by NT Jerrod Clark, whose sack forced a TROY punt on the next drive. This gave the Chanticleers their first score of the game on an eight-yard run by McCall. The quarter would end 31-7 with TROY in front.
Just Keep Scoring!
After a one-sided affair in the first half, we would see a humdinger of a third quarter. Five drives, three TDs, and another TD drive that went into the fourth quarter. CCAR would strike first with a six-play, 75-yard drive resulting in a 30-yard receiving TD by WR Jared Brown. They would, however, fail the two-point conversion, thus leaving the score 31-13. 31-15 would’ve almost cut the lead to half, so the aggressiveness was warranted but just didn’t seem to pay off. The Trojans would match the TD with R. Johnson’s 36-yard TD catch. On the first play of the next drive, McCall would run backward to avoid pressure. However, the ball would slip out of his hands, and TROY DE T.J. Jackson made CCAR pay with a fumble recovery. This allowed the Trojans to get into first-and-goal range at the CCAR seven-yard line.
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Surprisingly, a simple first-and-goal drive took 3:40 to conclude due to the many penalties extending the drive. The Chanticleers had an opportunity to end a third-and-goal play, but a defensive pass interference call got TROY to the two-yard line. A false start penalty, sack, and negative-yardage run pushed TROY to third-and-goal at the 15-yard line, only for another CCAR penalty (personal foul) to give the Trojans a first down… Billingsley would then add his third rushing TD (an eight-yard run) three plays later, extending the score to 45-13. This would be TROY’s last score of the game.
Where Was This Type of Play Earlier?
CCAR finally woke up in the fourth quarter with a shutdown defense and 13 points from the offense. However, it was just a little too late and ultimately didn’t matter. How could it when the Chanticleers were down 45-13? 13 points just dents the point difference to 19. Well, I guess playing for pride and not wanting to get totally hammered got through to them, just three quarters too late!
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Continuing a drive with 4:49 left in the third quarter, McCall would convert on a fourth down this time around at the start of the fourth. WR Sam Pinckney would get an 11-yard catch on fourth-and-nine, but another missed two-point attempt left the score at 45-19. TROY would be more subdued in this quarter, going with nine straight runs in two drives that resulted in punts. The Chanticleers would have their second (and last) TD of the quarter on a 21-yard catch by WR Tyson Mobley. Just as I hyped up the fairly positive CCAR fourth quarter, McCall ends up getting intercepted at the TROY 10-yard line to officially seal the Chanticleers’ fate. TROY RB Kimani Vidal would then run out the clock on three rushes.
Notable Parts of the Game
- As a result of this win, Troy was ranked #24 in the College Football Playoff Rankings and #23 by the AP Top 25!
- The Sun Belt now gets to end the season with at least one team in the top 25.
- It was a superb passing night for TROY QB Gunnar Watson! He may have only had 12 completions, but he made them count. His 318 yards amounted to 18.7 yards/attempt on 17 attempts!
- He was announced the championship MVP as well.
- It’s usually hard to see McCall get rattled. He turned the ball over on downs twice, both in the first half. He would fumble the ball early in the third quarter and throw only his second INT of the year to end CCAR’s last fourth-quarter drive.
- Maybe his injury earlier in the season is still affecting him. On November 9th, he was ruled out for the season with a foot injury. His timeline for return was three-to-six weeks, but he did return for this championship game.
- McCall did account for all four CCAR TDs, though (three passing, one rushing).
- TROY really was able to make the most of its possessions! They trailed CCAR in first downs (16 to 27), total yards (411 to 432), and time of possession (27:38 to 32:22). Even after two punts and two drives to end both halves, TROY had six TD drives and a FG.
- TROY only had one less passing yard (318) than CCAR (319).
- This game may have been pass-focused (637 yards), but TROY RB DK Billingsley was still able to contribute with three TDs.
- TROY ran the ball 36 times for 93 yards, while CCAR had better success with 113 yards on 31 attempts.
- TROY was able to have two 50-yard rushers (Billingsley, Vidal) despite this. CCAR just had a group effort without a true standout rusher.
- Pinckney would have more catches (11) compared to Mobley (seven).
- Stoudemire joined R. Johnson to pull off 60+ yard receptions, both for TDs.
- TROY converted five of their 11 third-down attempts, while CCAR did worse (4/13). CCAR did go 2/4 on fourth-down attempts, while TROY didn’t have any attempts.
- The Trojans lost a lot more penalty yards (65 to 45), even though the Chanticleers had one more than them (seven to six).
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Passing– CCAR QB Grayson McCall (29/41, 319 yds, three TDs, one INT, one fumble), TROY QB Gunnar Watson (12/17, 318 yds, three TDs, one fumble).
Rushing– CCAR RB Reese White (eight rushes, 44 yds), TROY RB DK Billingsley (nine rushes, 57 yards, three TDs).
Receiving– CCAR WR Tyson Mobley (seven rec, 109 yds, one TD), CCAR WR Sam Pinckney (11 rec, 81 yards, one TD), TROY WR RaJae’ Johnson (four rec, 134 yds, two TDs, 67 LONG).
Had to mention Pinckney for his 10+ receptions.
CCAR: CB Lance Boykin (eight TKs, 0.5 TFL), DT Kennedy Roberts (two TFLs, three TKs), DE Braylon Ryan (one QB HUR, three TKs).
TROY: S Dell Pettus (11 TKs), DT Will Choloh (one TFL, six TKs), LB Javon Solomon (one TFL, one TK, three QB HURs), S Craig Slocum Jr. (two PDs, seven TKs).
SKs/INTs/FFs/FRs/TDs– CCAR LB Adrian Hope (one SK, one FF, four TKs, 1.5 TFLs), CCAR DT Ja’Quon Griffin (one SK, four TKs, 1.5 TFLs), CCAR DT Roberts (one SK), CCAR NT Jerrod Clark (one SK, two TKs, one TFL), TROY DT Choloh (one SK), TROY S TJ Harris (one INT, two TKs), TROY DE T.J. Jackson (one FR).
Notable Special Teams
TROY P Mike Rivers (four punts, 145 yds, 3 IN 20).
CCAR did not have much to show in the special teams department. K Kade Hensley made both his XP chances, and CCAR tried to score two-point conversions on their two remaining TD drives. Rivers had three punts inside the 20-yard line, doing his part in helping out the TROY defense. Trojans K Brooks Buce also did his part with his six XPs and one FG.
a) Coastal Carolina: Birmingham Bowl- East Carolina on December 27th at 5:45 CST.
b) #24 Troy: Cure Bowl- Cure Bowl- #25 UTSA on December 16th at 2:30 PM CST.
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