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Trojans trying to get season back on track

Two years ago Troy came to Paulson Stadium looking to gain a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship against a Georgia Southern team that was already assured of a losing season.

On a sunny, crisp December afternoon the Eagles turned in one of the best games they played under the ill-fated Tyson Summers as they knocked off the Trojans, 28-24.

Coach Neal Brown and the Trojans have not forgotten that day and although they got a measure of payback with a 38-16 win last year that loss still stings.

The circumstances will be similar again this year when Troy (7-2, 5-0) and the Eagles (7-2, 4-1) face off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Paulson Stadium in a SBC game that has championship possibilities riding on the outcome.

The Trojans lead the East Division while Georgia Southern, which suffered a 44-25 loss at Louisiana Monroe last Saturday, needs a victory to stay alive in the race. Troy beat Louisiana, 26-16, last Saturday for its 11 straight Sun Belt win dating back to last season.

“This is a huge divisional game for us,” Brown said. “Our guys are looking forward to it. The last time we were there under similar circumstances we didn’t get it done.

“Our guys are looking forward to another opportunity. We control our own destiny in our conference. We’ve got to continue to fight for that every week.”

Now in his fourth season the personable Brown has developed Troy into one of the best programs in the Group of Five.

The Trojans own a win over Nebraska this season after winning at LSU last year and taking Clemson to the wire in a 30-24 loss three years ago.

Under Brown the Trojans have proved to be excellent frontrunners: they are 25-3 when leading after one quarter, 29-1 when leading at the half, and 31-0 when leading after three.

The lone loss when leading at the half came against the Eagles two years ago. Troy was up 10-3 at the intermission only to see Georgia Southern rally for the win.

Troy has one of the best offenses in the conference as it has two quarterbacks who have each registered 1,000 or more yards in total offense, the conference’s top rusher, and top receiver in yardage.

B. J. Smith has gained 860 yards rushing and scored 10 touchdowns while wide receiver Damion Willis has 718 yards on 40 catches. Willis had 10 receptions for 213 yards last week against the Ragin’ Cajuns, his second straight game of 100 or more.

Kaleb Barker and Sawyer Smith have both proved to be effective quarterbacks with Barker completing 96-of-126 passes for 1,013 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding another 281 yards rushing. Smith has hit on 62-of-97 for 823 yards and has 1,000 total offense.

While Georgia Southern leads the conference in rushing at 260 yards per game it will be tested by a Trojan defense that is number one against the rush at 126.7 yards per game.

“In 14 years coaching at three different stops that’s as good as I’ve ever had a receiver play,” Brown said of Willis’ game against the Cajuns. “That was a quality win for us.”

Brown also knows he will be facing a Georgia Southern team that has its back to the wall as far as the conference race is concerned, and one which will be looking to make amends for the loss to Monroe.

“They had played extremely well up until last week,” Brown said of the Eagles. “I know they’re disappointed and I know coming back home we are going to get their best. For whatever reason they play their best ball at home.”

Troy leads the series 11-6, but the Eagles are 6-3 in the modern era. The Trojans’ win last year was their first over Georgia Southern since 1992.

Georgia Southern has won six straight games at home, and is looking to have its first unbeaten season at home since 2014. The Eagles’ final two games are at Coastal Carolina and Georgia State.

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