TROY – Troy didn’t play a 60-minute game, but the Trojans sure wanted to.
After running 92 offensive plays and piling up 510 yards of offense, Troy perhaps came up one play short in its 50-43 loss to Arkansas State on Saturday night in the Sun Belt Conference opener for both teams.
It’s hard to believe a game that featured a combined 93 points and 1,068 yards could have an anticlimactic ending, but it did.
While Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker threw underneath to DK Billingsley for a short gain that was going to set up fourth-and-3 at the 9-yard line, left tackle Austin Stidham went down with an injury with around 10 seconds remaining.
The clock was stopped for the lineman – but it came at the cost of a 10-second runoff since it came in the final minute. As a result, the 10-second runoff ate up the final seconds of the game with Troy hoping for one more play and Arkansas State eager to run to the bus.
“I thought we had outside of 10 seconds – 13, 12 maybe,” Troy head coach Chip Lindsey said. “But they reviewed it … so hopefully they got it right, which I’m sure they did.”
A tremendous defensive play by sophomore linebacker Carlton Martial, who intercepted redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher with 2:44 remaining, got Troy the ball back trailing 50-43.
An unsportsmanlike conduct after the pick backed the Trojans up 15 yards and they started at their own 46.
Barker, who finished 34-for-57 passing for 367 yards and four touchdowns, drove Troy inside the ASU 30 with less than a minute remaining. He converted on third-and-12 at the 29 to Luke Whittemore for 13 yards and a first down at the 16.
Barker’s pass to Billingsley lost five yards, but he escaped pressure on the next play and scrambled for 7 yards to the 14.
On third-and-8, his pass on a crossing route hit Billingsley over the middle for five yards to the 9.
That’s when Stidham went down, the whistles blew and referees reviewed the clock and decided the game was over.
“It felt heartbreaking to me,” Billingsley said after he rushed 20 times for 103 yards. He also caught five passes for 16 yards. “That was a crazy finish. I thought we still had time on the clock to at least have one more play.”
Barker said he didn’t think that previous play took more than seven seconds and hoped there was enough time for a another shot. However, he was bothered more by what he called his “mess-ups” that were already nagging him.
“You always think what if we had one more (play),” Barker said. “I don’t know if we had enough time or not. Tough loss, man. Hat’s off to them. Great team, great defense.
“It just comes down to the tiniest things that you would not think mattered, but it mattered. I missed Reggie (Todd) on an out route. Lot of critical errors on me. I just need to play better at quarterback. I missed Luke wide open on a flea-flicker.”
He threw an interception on a deep pass for Khalil McClain. B.J. Edmonds picked it off at the Arkansas State 16 with 4:57 left.
The Red Wolves made two first downs before Martial kept Troy in the game with his interception.
Troy had a ton of yardage and enough points to win.
Kaylon Geiger caught eight passes for 111 yards, including a 9-yard TD pass from Barker. Todd caught four passes for 100 and would have had several more but he kept drawing pass interference calls.
But credit Arkansas State, who went with a redshirt freshman quarterback getting his first career start. Layne Hatcher will remember this one. He was 25-for-35 passing with two interceptions and four touchdowns.
Omar Bayless caught 10 passes for 213 yards, including a 92-yard TD that opened the scoring. Jonathan Adams added seven receptions for 105 yards and a 32-yard touchdown. Kirk Merritt had six catches for 104 yards and TDs of 14 and 45 yards. It’s believed to be the first time in Arkansas State history that the Red Wolves had three 100-yard receivers in the same game.
Troy dug another early hole for itself. But the Trojans proved again they don’t need a lot of time to score.
In fact, they rebounded from a 14-0 deficit with 10 points in nine seconds. They spent the first half chasing Sun Belt Conference rival Arkansas State and caught the Red Wolves with a nerve-racking 31-31 halftime score.
That first half featured a combined 559 yards of offense – and 490 of that came through the air.
Bayless hauled in Hatcher’s first-play pass for 92 yards and a touchdown for the game’s first score. Logan Wescott added a defensive score 61 seconds later when he picked up a Barker fumble and ran 40 yards to the end zone. It was 14-0 and the game was 3:18 old.
“That was embarrassing, just to drop the ball and they score,” Barker said.
Troy also gave up a safety. Will Sunderland made a tremendous play at cornerback on a deep ball to Bayless. However, he came down with the ball at the Troy 1-yard line. On the next play, Tajhea Chambers tackled Billingsley in the end zone for two points and a 47-43 ASU lead with 8:41 remaining.
Arkansas State drove to a field goal that gave them a 7-point lead.