TROY — Troy’s football season ended in the regular season for the first time since 2015.
Appalachian State scored touchdowns on its first five possessions and shut out Troy in the second half during its 48-13 victory on Friday night.
The Mountaineers (11-1, 6-1), ranked No. 22 in the AP and coaches’ polls this week, will play Louisiana in the Sun Belt championship game in Boone, N.C., next Saturday at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN.
Trojan head coach Chip Lindsey’s inaugural season ends at 5-7. There will be no bowl trip. Instead, the start of the 2020 season begins immediately, Lindsey said after the game.
“I think our guys will be highly motivated,” the coach said. “We’re going to make sure the guys who put on this jersey next year are guys that are committed to doing things right on and off the field and really working.
“We’ve got to make sure we fill in some pieces. Obviously, that starts with recruiting. We’ve got a good start on that, so we’ve got to finish that strong and then rebuild this team and get this team back where we all want it to be.”
Troy took the opening kickoff and drove 65 yards in eight plays, setting up Tyler Sumpter’s 26-yard field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
But the defense, depleted by injury and illness late in the season, was overmatched. Troy had 22 different defensive starters this season.
Appalachian State scored touchdowns on its first five drives. Zac Thomas, who finished 28-for-34 passing for 326 yards and four touchdowns, got it started with a 44-yard strike for a score to Jalen Virgil.
On its next possession, touted running back Darrynton Evans broke loose on a 52-yard that was headed off tackle, but he cut sharply upfield and accelerated into the secondary and won a race to the end zone. Evans gained 82 yards on 13 carries.
Thomas frustrated the Troy defense by converting on the Mountaineers’ first 10 third down situations. Receiver Thomas Hennigan caught 11 passes for 140 yards.
“They hit some passes on us. You’re not going to win many games if you can’t get off the field on third down,” Lindsey said. “We’ve got to improve in that area.”
Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker finished a tremendous senior season without throwing a touchdown pass in his final two games. Barker was 24-for-41 passing for 281 yards.
He still made several big completions. Reggie Todd caught a 35-yarder and finished leading Troy with five catches for 82 yards. Barker also had a 31-completion to DK Billingsley on a screen pass, a 30-yard toss to Khalil McClain, a 25-yard completion to Tray Eafford and a 17-yarder to Bret Clark.
In all eight different Trojans caught passes from Barker, who fought back from knee surgery that ended last season after six games.
“Lot of ups and downs, but very rewarding for me,” Barker said when asked about his Troy career. “I think I grew up a lot. Came in as a boy missing home. I just feel like I matured a whole lot, just see life differently now.
“Then the football aspect of it, just a huge blessing to do be able to do this at this level. Not a lot of people get to do it. The memories and things I went through, the four years, made me grow. I’ll cherish those moments as memories for the rest of my life.”
Barker had 3,765 yards of total offense this season — second behind Levi Brown’s 4,261-yard season in 2009. Barker had 299 completions on the season, fourth most in Troy history, for 2,628 passing yards, third most at Troy. His 30 touchdown passes are third on Troy’s single-season list.
Barker called the day “very emotional.”
“A lot of good things coming to an end,” the senior said. “Any time you invest a lot of time and effort into something and it comes to an end, it should mean something to you.”
Lindsey said it was a joy and an honor to coach Barker.
“He was hurt in high school twice and has come back from three ACL injuries,” the coach noted. “I don’t know if you know how hard that is to do. To be able to recover, come back, rehab, it’s a lot of work and a lot of commitment.”
Barker is playing on what Lindsey called “basically a broken foot” that limited his practice late in the season.
“He’s a warrior. He’s a true Trojan,” Lindsey said. “Four of the last six week’s he’s not even practiced for us. He couldn’t. When you don’t practice as much you’re not going to be as sharp. When you play good teams, that shows up. He’s a guy that is committed to our program and didn’t want to let us down.”
Billingsley’s 1-yard touchdown run was Troy’s only TD and came late in the first quarter. It cut Appalachian State’s lead to 20-10.
Malik Williams caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Thomas and Evans added a 9-yard touchdown run to open a 34-10 lead.
Sumpter’s 39-yard field goal with 5:33 left made it 34-13 and was Troy’s final score of the game.
As far as next season, Lindsey is already looking in that direction.
“The hardest part for me as a first-year head coach was I didn’t really know my team that well,” the coach said. “Now, having been here for basically a year I have a good sense of who our guys are and what we need to improve on. I’m talking about things like discipline, mentality and toughness. Those are the things that go a long way.”