Home Sports College College football: ULM rally falls just short against Troy

College football: ULM rally falls just short against Troy

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Paul Letlow
ULM Warhawks.com Online Columnist

MONROE — ULM found itself down by four touchdowns to Troy at halftime of its Sun Belt Conference opener.

That doesn’t mean the Warhawks were ready to pack it in though.

A furious rally put ULM back in the game before falling 35-27 at Malone Stadium.

“Give our guys a lot of credit for coming back,” ULM head coach Matt Viator said. “Maybe a couple of years ago we’d have mailed it in. We didn’t. We came back, fought back and stayed together.”

ULM outscored Troy 20-0 in the second half and limited the Trojans to four first downs while forcing five punts. It was a second-half turnaround that had the Warhawks (2-2, 0-1) in striking distance in the waning seconds.

“It’s always encouragement with us,” ULM linebacker David Griffith said of the team’s halftime adjustments. “We’re not trying to discourage anyone. We’re not trying to break anybody down. Everybody made mistakes in the first half, me included. I’m not the type of person to go in there and try and break anyone down.”

ULM tight end Josh Pederson snared a 23-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Evans with 6:18 remaining, capping a seven-play, 65-yard drive. Craig Ford missed the PAT kick, but the Troy lead had shrunk to 35-27.

“They’re a good defense” Evans said. “They were fast. We just shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. A couple of drives stalled out. We know that we can always control our own destiny.”

After Troy missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt with 2:24 remaining, ULM had a final shot at tying the score. The Warhawks drove to the Troy 11 before Marcus Jones picked off Evans in the end zone with 39 seconds left in the game.

“The safety made a good play,” Evans said. “I took a chance and it didn’t go my way.”

Evans ran for 101 yards on 15 carries and completed 29-of-48 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns.

Troy’s Kaleb Barker completed 23-of-28 passes for 273 yards and two scores.

At least at the start, things looked bright for the home team. Heavy rains that blanketed the area slacked off and cleared out before kickoff.

ULM’s defense enjoyed a promising start to the game too as the Trojans went three-and-out against the Warhawks, who came out swarming with a Rashaad Harding sack.

The offense followed with a 13-play, 73-yard drive that featured a heavy dose of Derrick Gore, who capped the march with a 1-yard touchdown run. Gore had five carries for 22 yards and caught a pass for 4 yards along the way.

Troy fared better in its second offensive opportunity with a swift six-play, 76-yard drive. Barker scrambled 19 yards for a game-tying touchdown and the score evened at 7-7.

The Trojans maintained their quick-tempo approach with a 14-play drive that covered 81 yards in 5:55. Barker scored on a 2-yard run for a 14-7 Troy advantage with 13:51 left in the second quarter.

ULM began to fall behind trading punts for touchdowns.

Troy scored on its third-straight drive even while utilizing a second quarterback. Sawyer Smith’s 26-yard touchdown strike to Damion Willis ended a five-play, 55-yard series and the Trojans led 21-7 with 10:23 showing in the first half.

The Trojans made it four unanswered scores on Barker’s 4-yard pass to Willis with 2:20 left in the quarter.

After another ULM drive stalled, Troy went 78 yards in six plays for a fifth-consecutive touchdown as Barker hit Sidney Davis with a 22-yard touchdown pass with 42 seconds to go.

Troy rolled up 368 yards of total offense in the first half while building its 35-7 lead. ULM gained just 41 yards on 22 plays in the half after the opening drive.

“We’re getting beat everywhere,” Viator said at halftime. “They’re moving the ball on us, and we’re not moving the ball. Our punter is doing good. Other than that, it’s just frustrating.”

Troy finally punted again on its first series in the third quarter.

ULM’s offense broke its long scoring drought as Kayin White bulled in for a 2-yard touchdown run with 5:17 to go in the third quarter. ULM needed 12 plays to cover 81 yards, with Evans making a 32-yard run during the drive that cut the margin to 35-14.

ULM put together another good series by going 78 yards in 11 plays for its third touchdown. Evans found tight end Sloan Spiller for a 4-yard score with 14:22 left in the game. At that point in the second half, ULM had 12 first downs and 224 yards while Troy had managed just two first downs and 33 total yards.

In the final tally, ULM outgained Troy, 490 to 469, and ran 84 offensive plays.

“We played with a lot of passion,” Viator said. “We ran to the ball and did those types of things. Give them credit for hanging in there and giving us a shot. Offensively in the second half, we did some good things.”