Sat, Dec 3, 2022 5:26 PM
By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
TROY, Ala. (AP) — Gunnar Watson and the streaking Troy Trojans came out with a flurry of big plays and a defense that was barely budging.
Watson passed for 318 yards and three long touchdowns to lead the Trojans to a 45-26 victory — their 10th straight — over Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference championship game on Saturday.
“It seemed like everything was going right for us,” Watson said.
The early domination didn't last, but it was enough.
The Trojans (11-2) raced ahead 31-0 and with a 316-22 advantage in total yards en route to their Sun Belt-record seventh league title. Coach Jon Sumrall's first season began 1-2, with one loss on a Hail Mary pass, and ended with fans celebrating Troy's first Sun Belt title since 2017 by storming the field and bringing down a goal post.
A group of students carried part of the goal post out of the stadium to the parking lot. It ended up in a nearby fountain.
"That probably will be one of the coolest memories I’ll ever have here," Troy linebacker KJ Robertson said. “That was awesome for me. I don’t know how they're paying for that.”
By the time three-time Sun Belt player of the year Grayson McCall got the offense going for Coastal Carolina (9-3), it was all but over. McCall started at quarterback after missing the past two games with a foot injury.
“They came out and really took it to us from the opening drive and we could not respond at all there in the first half,” said Chanticleers coach Jamey Chadwell. “I was proud of our team trying to come back in the second half. I thought we showed a lot of effort and fight.”
Watson completed 12 of 17 passes, including touchdowns of 67 yards and 36 yards to Rajae' Johnson and a 65-yarder to Deshon Stoudemire. Watson was hit as he was throwing the 67-yarder with Johnson stretching out to grab it.
Johnson then snagged the ball one-handed to answer the Chanticleers’ second touchdown.
“I saw the replay and I was like, ‘Holy crap,’” Watson said.
DK Billingsley ran for three touchdowns, including a 33-yarder, for the Trojans.
Troy, which was coming off three straight five-win seasons, hasn't lost since that Appalachian State Hail Mary on Sept. 17. Sumrall & Co. left the field in a much better mood this time.
“That was as good of a feeling as I’ve ever had after a game,” he said. "These kids have worked so hard and they’ve done so much and they’ve been through a lot."
McCall overcame a rough start to complete 29 of 41 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns with a late interception. He also ran for an 8-yard touchdown.
McCall led touchdown drives heading into and coming out of halftime. He said his status was a gametime decision.
“I felt good in warmups so I told coach I was good to go,” McCall said.
The momentum didn't last.
T.J. Jackson then had a strip sack and fumble recovery inside Coastal Carolina's 10 to set up a touchdown.
The stats evened out but the score never got too uncomfortable for Troy. Coastal Carolina actually ended with a 432-411 edge in total yards.
Coastal Carolina has lost two straight lopsided games, including a 47-7 defeat to James Madison amid speculation about Chadwell's future. He said he has spoken to Liberty about replacing coach Hugh Freeze but “I have not signed anything with them or anything of that nature.”
Coastal Carolina: McCall and the offense took too long to get going for the Chanticleers to have a chance, but the defense struggled to bring down both Troy's running backs and receivers in the first half. Still, the Chanticleers have won 31 games over the last three seasons.
Troy: Might have earned its second Top 25 ranking and first since 2016. The Trojans have their longest win streak since winning 11 in a row in 1995. Their six Sun Belt titles had been tied with Arkansas State.
The fumble recovery set up a drive that didn't go far but took nearly four minutes. Troy finally scored after the eight-play, 7-yard drive was kept alive by a personal foul on a field goal.
Both teams await their bowl destinations.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2