ORLANDO, Fla. (CureBowl.com) – No. 24 Troy spotted No. 25 UTSA a 12-0 lead before scoring 18 unanswered points, parlaying turnovers, penalties and timely defense into an 18-12 win Friday night in the 2022 Duluth Trading Cure Bowl at Exploria Stadium. Senior linebacker KJ Robertson was tabbed as the Duluth Trading Cure Bowl MVP after making a game-changing interception, returning it 61 yards and tallying nine tackles.
It was the only bowl game this postseason to pit two conference champions against each other.
The victory was the sixth consecutive bowl win for the Trojans (12-2), who extended their winning streak to 11 games and likely assured themselves their first finish in the Top 25 since moving to NCAA Division I FBS football. Their only loss in 2022 was in Game 3 to Appalachian State (9/17/22) on a last-play, Hail Mary touchdown pass.
Playing in the postseason for the first time since 2018, Troy gained only 152 yards in the game characterized by defense. But, the Sun Belt champions forced five UTSA turnovers and made two defensive stops in the red zone in the final 17 minutes to clinch the victory.
In all, Troy intercepted two passes from quarterback Frank Harris and recovered three fumbles against UTSA (11-3).
“The turnovers were timely, and we were fortunate enough to get ’em. If we don’t get them or those stops, we don’t win,” Troy Head Coach Jon Sumrall said. “To hold those guys to 12 points, I don’t know what to say. We stayed together all year, and I could not be more proud. I just hope they keep us in the Top 25.”
Late in the second quarter, UTSA sparked a Troy team that was out-of-sync offensively and seemingly on the verge of getting knocked out. They gave up five sacks and threw two interceptions in the first half as well as safety. When center Jake Andrews snapped the ball through the end zone when quarterback Gunnar Watson wasn’t looking.
Plus, UTSA punter Jared Sackett dropped all four of his punts inside Troy’s 20-yard line. But while ahead 12-0, the Roadrunners let Troy back in the game. They were flagged for three major defensive penalties, allowing Troy to covert two third downs and post a two-yard touchdown run by Kimani Vidal. Those miscues sliced their lead to 12-7 with 47 seconds left before halftime.
In the end, it was Duluth Trading Cure Bowl MVP KJ Robertson who provided the big spark that propelled Troy. He stepped in front a pass from Harris as the Roadrunners drove for go-ahead points late in the third period, returning the interception 61 yards to UTSA’s 37-yard line. A tacked-on 15-yard personal-foul penalty helped the Trojans convert the turnover into the game-winning points.
The Trojans’ Gunnar Watson found wide receiver RaJae’ Johnson for a 12-yard touchdown pass, then hit tight end Clayton Ollendieck for a two-point conversion and a 15-12 lead.
Robertson, a senior middle linebacker, finished with nine tackles. Fellow linebacker Carlton Martial made a game-high 14 tackles.
“One thing I really wanted – win, lose or draw – was for my daughter to see me play one time,” said Robertson, whose two-year-old daughter Layla Drew Hooper was in the stands. “If she remembers it or not, I loved it. It was the best feeling in the world. I really don’t know how to even explain it. She was born during COVID, so I didn’t want her at the games. Things happened and she wasn’t able to make it to any games even after that.”
UTSA running back Kevorian Barnes rushed for a game-high 132 yards on 21 carries. Harris was 23-for-42 for 198 yards and one touchdown, but he could not overcome his offense’s miscues and his defense’s penalties.
“Troy found a way to make a stop, so hats off to those guys,” Harris said.
“As an offense, we know we didn’t play our best.”
After taking their first lead, the Trojans drove 71 yards in 15 plays on their next possession, eating up 7 minutes and 40 seconds while converting two fourth downs. The first came on a fake punt from its 42-yard-line. Vidal, a blocking back on the punt team, ran four yards with a direct snap on fourth-and-2.
After the second conversion – courtesy of another UTSA flag, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during a dead ball situation – Brooks Buce kicked a 27-yard field goal with 9:18 left for the game’s final points.
“We’ve only been practicing that (fake) since August 15th probably,” said Sumrall, who called the fake after the teams lined up and he looked at UTSA’s punt receiving alignment. “We’re repped that twice a week, every week for 20 weeks now. To get a six-point lead there was pivotal, because they needed to score a touchdown (to win).”
UTSA carved an early 12-0 lead, but could not manufacture a late touchdown to secure the school’s first bowl win. Instead, the Roadrunners (11-3) threw three incomplete passes into the end zone with 7:01 to go, then misfired by going four and out on a last possession near midfield to see their winning streak end at 10 games.
“Let’s get real, those were some big penalties we had late in the second quarter,” linebacker Trey Moore said. “Can’t do dumb mistakes like that.”
UTSA’s last gasp ended when Harris threw deep on a fourth-and-nine pass to Zakhari Franklin and Troy cornerback Reddy Steward broke it up inside the 10-yard-line with 1:32 left.
“Lack of execution on third down — 3-for-11 — dropped some passes, lost some battles up front,” UTSA Coach Jeff Traylor said in assessing his team’s evening. “They called 3 consecutive pass interference penalties, had the turnovers. When you play really good people, this stuff happens. It’s big-time football.”
The USSOCOM Para-Commandos from MacDill Air Force Base flew in a commemorative pink game ball during a pregame ceremony. Troy was only the second team in a regulation game to kick off a ball with pink laces – a request that was first approved by the NCAA for the 2021 Cure Bowl.
BRINGING TEAMS TOGETHER TO FIND A CURE FOR CANCER
- To date, the Duluth Trading Cure Bowl has been a platform to donate more than $3.88 million to benefit its charity partner, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).
- Of the total donated at this year’s game, more than $1.2 million in grants have been distributed to local Orlando BCRF researcher Dr. Annette Khaled, head of the Division of Cancer Research at the UCF College of Medicine.
- FFVA Mutual presented a check to the Orlando Sports Foundation in the first quarter. A check of $34,000 was presented by FFVA Mutual President Alan Hair to Orlando Sports Foundation President Ray Bastin and Duluth Trading Cure Bow Executive Director Alan Gooch.
- Duluth Trading Company then presented the V Foundation with a $50,000 check. Cure Bowl Executive Director Alan Gooch represented Duluth Trading Company, while Jeremy Jones and Mary Ellen Curran accepted on behalf of the V Foundation.
- SoftWash Systems also presented a check for $45,512 to the Orlando Sports Foundation. Based in Sanford, Fla., SoftWash Systems has a national network of more than 250 soft-washing professionals. AC Lockyer, Karen Lockyer, Dan Holland, Ted Makelis and Renee Towne made the presentation.
- The Orlando Sports Foundation’s mission is to bring teams together to find a cure for cancer.
- Troy senior LB KJ Robertson had nine tackles (5 solo) and had a 61-yard interception return that turned the game. Only fellow LB Carlton Martial had more tackles (15) Friday.
- Robertson was emotional after the game because his daughter, 2-year-old Layla Drew Hooper, got to see him play in person for the first time. He was able to hold her during the postgame celebration on the field.
- Robertson is the second defensive player to win the game’s MVP award. The first was Liberty University DE Jessie Lemonier in 2019 (8 tackles, 2 sacks) in the Flames’ 23-16 win over Georgia Southern
- Troy QB Gunnar Watson was battered by UTSA, but never knocked out. His final passing line was 13-for-23 with two interceptions for only 113 yards and one touchdown.
- Friday marked Troy’s sixth bowl win in a row. The Trojans have never lost a bowl game since moving to Division I.
- UTSA is still looking for its first bowl victory.
“That’s just our identity as a team – bend, don’t break. As long as we are out there playing for each other, as long as we have 11 hats to the ball, we are going to be fine.”
– Troy LB Carlton Martial, who finished with a game-high 15 tackles.
“The App State loss, I think that’s the loss we needed. It really brought the team together. That really sparked us to make this special run for a championship and a bowl win.”
– Troy WR RaJae Johnson
About the Orlando Sports Foundation
The Orlando Sports Foundation (OSF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for cancer research. The OSF holds several events throughout the year, including the Duluth Trading Cure Bowl, an NCAA college football bowl game, played each December. The foundation works with national and local stakeholders to join in our mission to “bring teams together to find a cure for cancer”.
The Orlando Sports Foundation focuses on research that will solve cancer. Our goal is not to manage cancer, our goal is to find a cure for cancer. Together, we can tackle this. Click here to donate.
For more information about the “Impact” the Orlando Sports Foundation, Cure Bowl and affiliated events has had please visit OrlandoSportsFoundation.org.
About Duluth Trading Co.
Based in Mount Horeb, Wisc., Duluth Trading Co. and its growing portfolio of brands – Duluth, AKHG™ and Best Made® – cater to the lifestyle of the modern, self-reliant American.
Duluth Trading’s family of brands offer high-quality, solution-based apparel, accessories and gear for men and women to help them take on life with their own hands. Duluth Trading honors its roots by creating the hardest-working products, backed by the “Superior Standard,” and commits to providing outstanding customer service under its “No Bull Guarantee.” To learn more, visit DuluthTrading.com or one of the 65 Duluth Trading store locations nationwide.
ESPN Events, a division of ESPN, owns and operates a portfolio of 35 collegiate sporting events nationwide. In 2022, the 32-event schedule includes three early season college football kickoff games, 17 college bowl games, 11 college basketball events and a college softball event. In all, they account for approximately 400 hours of live programming, while reaching nearly 64 million viewers and attracting over 800,000 annual attendees. With satellite offices in more than 10 cities across the country, ESPN Events builds relationships with conferences, schools and local communities, as well as providing unique experiences for teams and fans.
-DULUTH TRADING CURE BOWL-