TROY – Melvin Tyus knows Southern Mississippi has a score to settle – 37-31.
That was the final when Troy and the Golden Eagles last played, on Sept. 17, 2016 in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Not many remember, but Tyus does. And he’s pretty sure Southern Miss does, too.
“We played them a few years ago down there at their place,” said Tyus, one of Troy’s permanent captains this season who played as a redshirt freshman in that game. “We had a (pregame) rain delay. It was a well-fought game and we came out with the victory.
“We know these guys are going to come in here and try to defeat us the same way we did them. We respect them a lot and look forward to the challenge.”
Another Troy fifth-year senior, left guard Kirk Kelley, was a redshirt freshman who played in that 2016 game at M.M. Roberts Stadium in front of 27,905.
That was the week after Troy lost a heartbreaker at Clemson, 30-24, as a 35-point underdog. The Tigers eventually won the national championship that season.
The Trojans were a 10-point underdog at USM the following week. Considering the tremendous effort they gave the week before in extreme heat, the result was a shocker.
“That was a fun game, a great game to kind of be a part of,” Kelley recalled. “I expect them to have that game in their mind when they come in to play us. They will give us their best shot and we’ll give them our best shot and we’ll see how it ends.”
In 2016, USM took an early lead on a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown. Brandon Silvers led the Trojans back with 17 first-quarter points.
Tyus, who finished with four tackles in the game, had a huge impact. He forced a fumble on a kickoff that set up Silvers’ 29-yard touchdown pass to Emanuel Thompson for a 14-7 Troy lead.
The Trojans never trailed after that but the Golden Eagles rallied to tie the game early in the third quarter on Ito Smith’s 70-yard TD run.
Ryan Kay kicked two of his career-high three field goals after that point, sandwiched around a Jordan Chunn 39-yard touchdown run for Troy, which led 37-31 with 10:21 remaining.
Southern Miss ended the game on Troy’s 9-yard line. Nick Mullens’ pass for Isaiah Jones fell incomplete in the end zone on the game’s final play.
Three seasons later, Kelley recognized the significance of that win on the Troy program. That was Year 2 of the Neal Brown era.
“I think it lifted us a lot because we were coming off a year when we didn’t do so well. It was the first real tested win in the second year of coach Brown being here,” Kelley said. “I think it kind of pushed us to kind of go the rest of the season and just win games at a high level, knowing that we can compete with good teams that have been good for a while.”
Brown, even after the game, knew it was a big step forward for his program.
“This is going to be a defining moment for our team and our program,” the second-year coach said before his team went on to a 10-win season. “This is the biggest win, maybe, since the 2010 bowl game.”
Kelley said he sees a lot of Troy when he’s studying Southern Mississippi.
“Two teams that have historic programs,” he began. “Really underrated teams that have been really successful over the years and I think we do have similarities as far as being physical football teams. I think that is something that stands out as something people don’t really notice as much.”
Tyus, too, said the win “felt” big at the time.
“It gave us a lot of confidence just in their place, rain delay, we could have used any excuse not to fight hard and win that game on the road, but we did,” the safety said. “It gave us a lot of confidence going on for these past years that we’ve been successful. That’s in the past right now, though. We just look forward to winning this game.”