By David Fong
TROY — Sam Jackson felt his team had taken enough of a pounding.
It was time to start hitting back.
And the Troy football team’s senior linebacker did just that, recovering a fumble deep in Trojan territory as Belmont appeared to be driving for a score on its first drive in the season opener between the two teams Friday at Troy Memorial Stadium.
The Trojans drove the ball 90 yards the other way for a score and never looked back in a 43-8 win over the Bison. In a battle of Division II playoff teams from 2017, Troy improved to 1-0, while Belmont fell to 0-1.
“We knew had had to toughen up, to lock up and do what we had been coached to do all week,” said Jackson, who pounced on the Belmont fumble at the Trojan 10-yard line following the fumble on a bad snap. “They started driving on us and we had our backs against the wall. We had to start fighting back. Their quarterback couldn’t handle the snap and I just came in and hit him and the ball started rolling away.”
Troy then took over at the Belmont 10 and, after a slow start to the drive, finished with a flourish. After taking nine plays to go 37 yards, Jaydon Culp-Bishop needed just one more carry to pick up his first touchdown of the season, scorching the Belmont defense on a 53-yard touchdown run. Brayden Siler kicked the extra point to put the Trojans up 7-0.
“It was important that we come back and score,” Culp-Bishop said. “We knew they had a lot of guys going both ways and they were starting to wear down. We wanted to take advantage of that. We wanted to score every time we got the ball.”
The Trojans defense held Belmont on its next drive, forcing a punt from deep in Bison territory. The punt only went 15 yards, allowing the Trojans to take over at the Belmont 33. Siler capped off the scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper.
Late in the second quarter, Trojan defensive tackle Garrett Jones sacked Belmont quarterback Rian Reeevs, setting up another short Bison punt, giving Troy the ball at the Belmont 37. Two plays later, Culp-Bishop — who had 10 carries for 111 yards in the first half alone — busted through the Bison defense for a 32-yard touchdown run, putting the Trojans up 20-0.
Belmont fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Jackson scooped it up and appeared to score a TD, but ened up being ruled out at the 3-yard line. Three Troy runs went nowhere, however, and Belmont picked off a pass on fourth down — and only a touchdown-savingtackle by Caillou Monroe at midfield prevented the Bison from returning it for a score, allowing the Trojans to go into halftime with a 20-0 lead.
Belmont came out firing again to start the second half, stopping Troy on its opening drive and then going 54 yards on just five plays for a touchdown and two-point conversion to cut Troy’s lead to 20-8. At that point, it looked like Belmont might climb back into the game, but the Trojans were having none of it.
“I was really happy with the way our kids responded,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “Our kids responded well. Belmont is a good football team. We knew they were going to come our ready to play, but our kids answered the call every time.”
Troy needed just five players to answer, with Siler hooking up with tight end Spencer Klopfenstein for a 21-yard gain, then connecting with Jacob Shoop on a 27-yard touchdown pass to put Troy back up 27-8.
It was the first-career start at quarterback for the junior Siler, who had a pair of touchdown runs in addition to his touchdown pass.
“Last week (in a scrimmage against Dunbar), things were moving a little too fast for me,” Siler said, “This week I was able to settle down. I will have to look at the film (Saturday) to see how I did. I saw a little film (Friday) and I saw some mistakes and some things I need to fix. But I’ll know more once I see the film (Saturday).”
Burgbacher said Siler played well, but also was quick to praise the offensive line in front of him. Only one starter, tackle Nate Garber, returned from last season. Jesse Westmeyer at tackle, Jakob Moorman and Marshall Brueckman at guards and Riley Hubbard at center all made their first career starts.
“It all starts up front,” Burgbacher said. “We had four kids starting who had never played on Friday nights before. Those kids did an outstanding job.”
On Belmont’s next drive, Jackson forced a fumble on a quarterback sack, which Jones recovered at the Belmont 22. Five players later, Siler scored his second rushing touchdown to put the Trojans up 34-8. After another Belmont punt, Troy got the ball back near midfield and Culp-Bishop’s 50-yard run to the Belmont 4 set up his third touchdown of the night. He finished with 13 carries for 166 yards. His final score set up a running clock for the remainder of the game. Troy would add a safety for the final margin of victory.
All told, it was exactly the sort of start Burgbacher had been hoping for.
“This feels great,” he said. “Belmont is a good team and they are going to win a lot of football games. For our kids to come and play this way is just outstanding.”
Some might say it was a “hit.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong.