By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
DAYTON — Thursday night, Kevin Walters’ time finally came.
And he made the most of it.
The senior Troy running back — who had been behind record-setting back Jaydon Culp-Bishop on the depth chart the past two seasons — got his chance to shine in Thursday night’s season opener against Belmont at Dayton’s Welcome Stadium, rushing for 174 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojan football team’s 28-27 overtime victory.
“That’s one kid I could not be happier for,” first-year Troy head coach Gress said of Walters. “It’s kids like this who, after working hard for three years, is finally getting his payday, his reward. He’s not the only kid like that we’ve got, either. This is why we do it.”
Culp-Bishop finished the 2018 season with 2,457 yards and 40 touchdowns, leading the Trojans to a 10-2 record, a third consecutive division championship and a third straight postseason berth. Walters, meanwhile, saw carries in only six games, with 134 yards on 18 carries. His sophomore year, he had 56 yards on seven carries.
Making Thursday night’s performance a career night.
Walters scored his first career touchdown on the Trojans’ first possession of the game, breaking a 26-yard touchdown run on third-and-19 to give Troy a 7-0 first-quarter lead. And after Belmont tied the score, Walters punched it in from a yard out to make the halftime score 14-7 Troy.
And after the Bison took their first lead of the game at 15-14 in the second half, Walters again powered into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to give Troy a 21-15 lead, scoring all three of the Trojans’ touchdowns in regulation before Belmont tied the score and forced overtime.
All told, Walters came up 16 yards shy matching his career total to that point in his first game as the starting back — and he knows the season is far from over.
“I can’t believe it. It’s crazy,” Walters said. “I’ve worked so hard for that moment and definitely got what I deserved — and it’s not over. I’ve got to still keep working and not let up, never let up. Just keep grinding.”
• New Position? No Problem
Sophomore Josh Mayfield entered the season as the backup quarterback behind senior Brayden Siler.
Thursday, he found himself on the receiving end of a game-winning touchdown pass.
Siler hit a completely uncovered Mayfield with a 20-yard touchdown pass on Troy’s first possession in overtime, the haymaker that the Trojans threw after softening Belmont up with body blows in the running game the rest of the night.
“I was just thinking, ‘could this be real?’” Siler said when asked what he thought when he saw Mayfield so open. “It was a great play call — we’d been running the ball all game, so they didn’t expect us to pass. Ran a wheel route, he was wide open in the end zone and we converted it.”
The quarterback-to-quarterback connection may be an odd one, but Mayfield — who was throwing touchdown passes in scrimmages two weeks ago against Lima Senior and Lebanon — is a player that the Trojans will find ways to help contribute.
“Props to Josh for making a position change this week,” Siler said of Mayfield. “He’d never played H-back or wing or anything like that at all. He’d always been a quarterback. This week, having to learn new stuff, he came out and executed.”
“Josh is a player that we have to find ways to get on the field,” Gress said. “Offense, defense, special teams, he takes his prep work very seriously to be able to get on the field as a sophomore.”
• Fast Redemption
Siler, also the Trojans’ kicker, missed a chance to win the game in regulation.
With the score tied 21-21, the Trojans drove to the Belmont 17-yard line with 26 seconds on the clock. Siler’s 34-yard game-winning field goal try was pulled slightly wide right, though, sending the game to overtime.
“Those things are going to happen,” Siler said. “Obviously, I didn’t expect to miss the field goal, but it happened and I had to get through it. Next-play mentality — you can’t hang on to stuff like that. I just got it out of my head as soon as I could.”
In the end, Siler was automatic on extra points, though, going 4 for 4 on the night — including after the touchdown pass in overtime, which proved to be the game-winning point.
• The Gamblers
Siler’s fourth extra point gave Troy the win because of Belmont’s habit of going for two-point conversions on the night — and the Trojan defense’s penchant for stopping them.
Belmont kicked one extra point to tie the score at 7-7, but after a third-quarter touchdown, quarterback Rian Reaves ran in a two-point try to put the Bison up 15-14. After Troy went up 21-15, Belmont scored again with 3:26 to play and could have taken a one-point lead with a point-after — but instead they Bison went for two again, and Troy’s defense wrapped up Reaves five yards behind the line of scrimmage to keep the score tied at 21-21.
“That’s the type of team they are — they’re aggressive and want to bring it to you,” Gress said. “They’re a single-wing, smash-mouth team, and they take that style in all aspects. We weren’t really surprised that they went for two.”
And after Troy went up 28-21 on the its first possession of overtime, the Bison answered — and went for the win.
“This is what we trained for,” Gress said when asked what he was thinking as Belmont lined up for its final two-point try for the win. “We had the team in the background going wild, loving their teammates and ready to go. This was the exact moment we trained for.”
Troy’s defense stood tall once again, stopping the run and setting off a season-opening celebration.
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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