Aggies come so close, it hurts
Rally falls short as Troy prevails 27-24
LAS CRUCES — Dramatic improvement? Definitely. Satisfying? Definitely not. The New Mexico State Aggies hung oh-so-close Saturday night with a Troy team that had hammered them in previous meetings, but it wasn’t quite enough to win their Sun Belt Conference opener. The Trojans built a 17-point lead early in the third quarter and held on for a 27-24 victory in front of an announced 15,446 fans at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
Thanks in part to a strong performance by quarterback Tyler Rogers, the Aggies (1-2) had a chance to win late. NMSU trailed 20-3 in the third quarter but trimmed the deficit to three points and had the ball with 8:11 remaining.
But three short passes failed to produce a first down, and Troy’s offense was able to grind out enough yardage to burn the final 6:15 off the clock.
The outcome was not a complete letdown considering recent history. Troy had whipped the Aggies by 52-7 and 52-6 margins in their
past two meetings.
“The good news is we were there with a chance to win,” NMSU coach Doug Martin said. “We’re not into moral victories, but with what this team has done to us the past two years, this is obvious improvement.”
Martin’s players echoed his sentiments but some frustration was also evident.
“The initial thought is this one slipped through our fingers,” linebacker Dalton Herrington said. “That stings. It really stings because we want to win games. We’ve got to make a couple more plays.”
Perhaps the biggest play of the night came with 3:51 left and Troy facing a third-and-4 situation at its 20-yard line. Trojans quarterback Brandon Silvers fired a back-shoulder strike to well-covered wideout Deondre Douglas for a 17-yard gain that kept the drive alive.
“The corner was right on him and I was coming over to help,” NMSU safety Ron LaForce said. “Just great throw, great catch. What can you say?”
From that point on, Troy was able to simply feed the ball to powerful running back Jordan Chunn, who bulled his way for two first downs to secure the win.
“Overall, I thought our defense played well,” Martin said, “but we’ve got to find a way to get off the field at the end of the game.”
Troy outgained the Aggies 469 yards to 382, but the numbers did not reflect how NMSU’s defense played for much of the night. The Trojans (2-1, 1-0) put together two long touchdown drives to start the game and another to open the third quarter, building their 20-3 lead.
But the Aggies also turned Troy’s offense away without points on three drives into NMSU territory and forced three second-half punts.
That allowed Rogers and the Aggies’ offense to get back into things. Rogers, who finished 32-of-45 passing for 331 yards and three touchdowns, got the rally started with a 46-yard strike to Izaiah Lottie, who tipped the ball away from a defender and grabbed it in the end zone to make it 20-9.
Rogers later engineered a 12-play, 79-yard scoring drive to trim the margin to 20-16. Rogers hit Jaleel Scott with a 5-yard fade route for the touchdown, and with 3:44 left in the third quarter the game was very much in doubt.
Troy responded with a long TD drive, burning the Aggies on a fourth-and-1 play when Silvers faked a handoff and raced 32 yards untouched to the end zone.
“They’re a big quarterback sneak team,” Herrington said, “and he caught us with that zone read. That hurt.”
Trailing 27-16, NMSU put together an 89-yard drive, capping it with a perfect 9-yard TD pass from Rogers to Lottie. A two-point conversion pass to Scott sliced the lead to 27-24, but it would get no closer.
“We’ve just got to get over that last hump,” Rogers said. “We could’ve beaten that team, should’ve beaten that team. There’s just one or two plays we’d like to have back and we can’t. I still believe in this team, but this one is frustrating.”