TROY — Troy was in of those uncomfortable positions early in the fourth quarter. The Trojans had just given up a big-play touchdown and Georgia Southern had pulled within six points.
With all that has surrounded this team — losing four of its last five games, shuffling the lineup due to injuries, falling out of the Sun Belt Conference race — the Trojans were looking at another pivotal fourth quarter.
This time, they finished. Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker led a 13-play, 75-yard drive over the next five minutes and threw his third touchdown pass of the game — a 7-yarder to Reggie Todd — that provided both cushion and momentum in the Trojans’ 49-28 homecoming victory on Saturday.
“I think it’s about time,” Barker said after the game. “We’ve been saying the same thing for weeks and weeks, it seems like. We just weren’t getting it done.
“Finally, for our fans on homecoming, all the alums, I think it’s a really big game. Just super excited, happy and ready to celebrate with the boys.”
The Trojans pulled away in the final 10 minutes. Todd’s touchdown and a two-point “Philly special” conversion pass from Kaylon Geiger to Barker made it 35-21.
DK Billingsley, who had a career-high 163 yards rushing, broke loose on a 70-yard touchdown run up the middle. It was Troy’s longest offensive play of the season and put the Trojans up 42-21. Billingsley earlier had an 18-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that gave Troy a 14-0 lead.
Backup running back Trevon Woolfolk scored on a 12-yard run with 3:50 left in the game for a 49-21 lead.
“I think it speaks to the character of this team,” Troy head coach Chip Lindsey said. “We talked all week about our team playing with confidence. We answered the bell there in the fourth quarter when we needed to put a drive together on offense and got a couple stops. …
“Defense is the story of the night. They fought their butts off and put it all together. We talked all week about playing a complete game in all three phases — which I don’t know that we’ve done that until tonight.”
It provided a needed cleansing breath for the program as it prepares to visit Texas State and Louisiana before returning home for Appalachian State on Nov. 29.
Troy improved to 4-5 overall, 2-3 in the Sun Belt. Georgia Southern, which upset then-No. 20 App State in its last game, fell to 5-4, 3-2.
But the Trojans were there, in the first minute of the fourth quarter, in a six-point game with the visitors getting momentum and a homecoming crowd of 22,108 getting nervous.
“When we went into the offensive huddle, kind of a similar situation last week where we had the opportunity to put the game away,” Barker said. “That was the whole vibe of the huddle right there.
“We ended up taking it down and putting it away right there, and ended up pouring it on them. Felt really good to bounce back from not getting it done last week to getting it done.”
Troy put up 603 yards of offense. Barker was 27-for-42 passing for 330 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Geiger caught seven passes for 110 yards, including a 54-yarder. Todd, Bret Clark and Tray Eafford caught TD passes of 7, 13 and 15 yards, respectively.
Lindsey wasn’t the only one, however, who noticed the defense.
“I’m super proud of the younger guys on defense for playing their hearts out tonight,” Barker said. “I think they played really, really well — probably the best they’ve played all year.
“Like we’ve been saying, when are we going to put it all together and show how good we can be? Unfortunately, it’s the ninth game of the season. I think we’re on pace to finish the season out right.”
Georgia Southern had allowed nine sacks in its first eight games. Troy sacked quarterback Shai Werts nine times on Saturday.
Linebacker Carlton Martial was again superb. The sophomore made 11 tackles, including a sack of Werts.
“It’s been a long-time coming,” Martial said when asked about the team just needing a win. “We’ve been on a little losing streak, so it feels good to get the win.”
The defense has taken its share of criticism this season. And with the option-based attack of Georgia Southern coming to town, Martial needed teammates to step up.
“All week we looked at it as OK, we have to draw the line somewhere,” Martial said. “We let too many things get past us this year. We came out there with a mindset that enough is enough.”
Martial got help from defensive end Marcus Webb, who made seven tackles and had three sacks. Webb said that was his first three-sack game since high school. He said the Trojans had a game plan to contain Werts’ option keepers, then get after him when he threw the football.
“He’s a really dynamic player. Contain him, make sure he doesn’t make plays was pretty much our whole goal,” Webb said.
A move from inside to defensive end was perfect for Webb.
“Coming in, that was originally my position. For need purposes, I had to move down to the 3-technique,” he said. “I had to do what I had to do, but the edge is definitely what I do, for sure.”
Nose guard Will Choloh said, “Webb’s been playing really great these last couple weeks. They changed his position to D-end. His production just skyrocketed.”
Lindsey said the entire defense roses to the challenge.
“It seems like they played with an edge tonight,” the coach said. “They made plays in the backfield, they played extremely hard, they tackled better for the most part. The effort, the energy, can’t say enough. (Defensive coordinator) Brandon Hall and his staff had a great plan.
“When you play a team like Georgia Southern, one of the things you worry about is them controlling the football and you not getting many snaps.”
Troy ran 74 offensive plays to the Eagles’ 65. Georgia Southern was held to 152 yards rushing and Werts completed 8 of 16 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns.