MOBILE, AL (WSFA) - The Troy Trojans entered Saturday’s 2018 Dollar General Bowl looking to make history. But so did the Buffalo Bulls. Troy was looking for its third straight season of at least 10 wins, while Buffalo was looking for its first bowl win in school history.
It was a good night to be a Trojan fan as Troy (10-3) brought home the 2018 Dollar General Bowl championship with a 42-32 win over Buffalo (10-4).
Buffalo received the opening kick and one of the top Mid-American Conference quarterbacks looked to go to work. Tyree Jackson wasted no time. He opened with a deep pass down the field that somehow ended up being caught by Antonio Nunn inside the 10 after the ball ricocheted off of a pair of players.
Two plays later, freshman running back Jaret Patterson made a defender miss before scoring the game’s opening touchdown with 13:12 left in the opening quarter.
The Troy offense looked to answer. It did just that. On the third play from scrimmage, Trojan quarterback Sawyer Smith hit wide receiver Tray Eafford for 60 yards on a deep route down the field and just like that, the game was tied at 7 with not even four minutes of game time having passed by. On the scoring play, Eafford managed to get behind the Buffalo secondary and Smith delivered a near-perfect ball.
The Troy Trojan defense turned the Bulls over on their second possession. Facing a third-down situation, Jackson was flushed out of the pocket by a blitz. Jackson scrambled towards the sideline looking to make a play and threw the ball right at Troy’s Cedarius Rookard.
The interception was Troy’s 18th of the season.
After a big play to Damion Willis, the Trojans were stalled in the red zone on three downs but Brown kept the offense on the field.
On 4th and 1, the handoff to B.J. Smith came up short and the Buffalo defense held after the turnover.
Patterson got the Bulls offense some breathing room with a 9-yard pickup on first down and then picked up the first down with his next carry. Now out of their own end zone, the Bulls were allowed more flexibility with their playcalling.
Troy’s defense proved why it’s one of the toughest in the nation though by forcing the first punt of the game.
A pair of empty drives from both teams brought about the end of the first quarter with the game tied at 7.
Just when it looked like the Trojans were about to get the ball back, a defensive pass interference call moved the chains for Buffalo giving the Bulls an automatic first down.
The Trojans stuffed the Bulls on third and short but they had 12 men in the formation and Buffalo was granted another first down.
Buffalo’s change of pace seemed to trip the Trojans up on the drive. The Bulls toggled between huddling and going fast-paced. The Trojans were caught trying to substitute players with the Bulls going no-huddle twice on the drive.
Kevin Marks spelled Patterson at the running back position, and powered the Bulls to the goal line. On 2nd and goal, Marks dove out over the goal line and Buffalo was back out in front of Troy.
Troy now found themselves behind 14-7 with 11:06 remaining in the the first half.
Buffalo forced Troy into a three-and-out next time out and put the offense back on the field with a chance to go up two scores.
Buffalo ran the ball effectively on the Trojans in the first half. Troy entered only allowing 130.9 rushing yards per game. With 9:21 to play in the second quarter, Buffalo had already gained 90 rushing yards.
The Troy Trojans were back in business though after forcing their second turnover of the first half. It was the freshman linebacker from Mobile, Carlton Martial, who forced a Patterson fumble.
The Trojans turned that turnover into a 9-play touchdown drive capped with a Willis touchdown reception of 7 yards to even the game at 14 with 6:15 to play in the second quarter.
The Troy defense forced its third turnover of the game the very next possession. Another fumble was forced by Martial and the Trojans had another opportunity to take the lead.
The Trojans went for a big play on their first play of the drive. A flea flicker with a Smith-to-Smith connection that came up empty. The drive then stalled on third down when Sawyer Smith fumbled the snap.
Head coach Neal Brown opted to go for it on 4th and 15 and failed, nullifying the turnover.
Buffalo nearly fumbled the ball over to Troy for a third time but were lucky to recover. They faced 4th and 2 and Jackson used his feet to pick up the first down.
Troy held on the next series of plays to force a Buffalo field goal. Adam Mitcheson nailed a 41-yarder to give Buffalo a 17-14 lead with 52 seconds left in the game’s opening half.
That’s how the two teams would head into the half, with the Trojans trailing.
Troy received the second half kick and with that drive. With only 7 rushing yards netted in the first half, the Trojans threw the ball three-straight times to open the second half.
A third-down completion to Deondre Douglas moved the chains to keep the drive alive. Two consecutive running plays to Smith followed and the Trojans were in Bulls territory.
Two more passes followed and then B.J. Smith finished off the drive in a strong way. He capped the drive by diving into the end zone to give Troy its first lead of the game. Smith amassed 40 rushing yards on the drive as Troy jumped ahead 21-17 with 9:41 to play in the third quarter.
Brown then dialed up some trickeration. The Trojans perfectly executed an onside kick. Kicker Bratcher Underwood converted the onside kick and recovered the ball near midfield for the Trojans.
The move caught Buffalo off guard and the Trojan offense was back on the field.
Troy went for the deep ball the very first play of the drive but Sawyer Smith’s throw sailed too far outside for Eafford. No matter. Troy was able to move the ball into Bulls territory still.
Sawyer Smith was able to connect with Willis on a trio of throws to push the Troy offense forward. B.J. Smith pushed the offense into the red zone.
B.J. Smith looked to power into the end zone for his second score but fumbled the ball on the 6-yard line and Buffalo’s Tyrone Hill scooped the ball up and returned it 94 yards to put Buffalo back ahead 24-21 with 5:23 to play in the game’s third period.
It was Buffalo’s only score of the quarter, and the only time the Bulls would touch the ball. The offense did not see the field until the fourth quarter.
Troy was able to put a drive together that included getting down to the Buffalo 3 before the third quarter expired.
B.J. Smith was stuffed on third down and goal but Brown kept the offense on the field for fourth down.
What followed was a Sawyer Smith to Damion Willis touchdown pass for the second time in the game. Smith’s pass was a back shoulder fade to Willis.
Troy retook the lead, 28-24 with 14:13 to play in the game.
The Trojans were able to notch their first sack of the game at a crucial point. The Bulls faced third and short and Marcus Webb was able to get to Jackson and force Buffalo to punt.
A facemask penalty added 15 yards to the end of the return for Troy and the Trojans began their offensive drive in Buffalo territory.
The Trojans extended their lead to 11 points next drive out. After an incomplete pass on first down and a second down run, Buffalo brought the blitz on third down. Smith stood strong in the pocket and delivered a downfield pass to Sidney Davis who could’ve walked into the end zone after receiving the pass.
Smith’s fourth touchdown pass of the game gave Troy a two-score lead at 35-24 with 11:25 to play.
The game, still far from over, was now on the arm of the Bulls' gunslinger at QB.
Jackson made a pair of big throws - one coming on third down - to move the offense into Troy territory.
The Trojans held the Bulls to a fourth down situation but Buffalo was willing to roll the dice.
They’d been perfect on fourth downs all game to this point and would not be denied. Jackson picked up the first down with his feet, again, to keep the drive alive.
The clocked ticked down towards 8 minutes when Troy cornerback Blace Brown was hit with a pass interference call. The call moved the Buffalo offense to the 3-yard line.
Jackson fumbled the first down play but was able to recover - the second time Buffalo was as fortunate in the game. The first led to a field goal.
This time, it led to a touchdown. Jackson threw the ball up to to an area where he had two receivers to Troy’s one defender and K.J. Osborn pulled down the throw with one hand for the touchdown.
The Bulls offense remained on the field in an attempt to cut their deficit to 3 and they did just that after Jackson ran backwards nearly 20 yards before stopping and firing back across the field to Nunn to convert the 2-point try.
Now leading 35-32 with 7:24 left to play, Troy needed to put a drive together to give the defense a breather after being on the field for 10 plays and four minutes.
Enter B.J. Smith once again. Smith was able to keep the clock going with a one-hand reception on first down, and then a second down run that picked up a considerable amount of yards. He powered ahead on third and short to keep both the clock and the chains moving.
Sawyer Smith took another deep shot down field but a diving Willis had the ball just bounce out of his hands. On second down, Sawyer handed it off to B.J. to keep the clock moving down towards the 4-minute point.
On a big third down, Smith tried to escape the pressure in the pocket, but was sacked and Buffalo preserved its three timeouts and got the ball back with 3:30 to play in the game.
Buffalo had been lucky not to lose its previous two fumbled, but the third time was a charm for the Troy defense. Jackson was flushed from the pocket and when he tried to evade a defender, was sacked and fumbled the ball where Troy’s Hunter Reese recovered.
Very next play, touchdown. Davis was in for his second score of the game. A jet-sweep-turned-reverse from Marcus Jones to Davis and he was untouched all the way to the end zone, and Troy pushed the lead to 42-32 points with 3:09 to play.
The turnover was Buffalo’s fourth turnover - third fumble - of the game. It was maybe the most critical one.
The game would’ve really gotten out of hand as Buffalo fumbled the ensuing kickoff but recovered.
Jackson tried to maneuver a drive for Buffalo as he took the field. With 1:45 to play, Jackson was sacked and Buffalo was forced to burn its second timeout.
The Trojans were able to hold and forced Buffalo to kick a field goal. Mitcheson set up to kick from 30-yards out but Mitcheson’s kick was blocked and Troy’s third-straight 10-win season was nearly sealed.
The offense kneeled the ball down and did just that.
Troy set a school record with its third straight season of at least 10 wins. The win was also Troy’s third straight bowl win in as many seasons and its fourth win in as many tries.
On the flip side, Buffalo was denied a shot at its first bowl win in school history.
Willis had a career-high 13 catches for 101 yards. Jackson, an NFL-caliber talent, finished 20-for-35 and 274 yards to go along with one touchdown pass. His counterpart, Sawyer Smith, finished with 320 yards and four touchdown passes Troy.
B.J. Smith finished with 93 yards on 20 carries.
At halftime, Buffalo had 10 first downs to Troy’s three. By the game’s end, Troy had 21 and Buffalo had just 20. Troy also finished with a 113-102 rushing yard advantage.