MONROE, La. – Troy spotted Louisiana-Monroe an early 7-0 lead, showed no mercy for the rest of the half and then held on for dear life to claim a 35-27 win after Enterprise’s Marcus Jones intercepted a pass in the end zone with 39 seconds left at Malone Stadium on Saturday night.
The Trojans scored 35 unanswered points in the first half – four touchdowns coming in the second quarter – to lead by 28 at the break in the Sun Belt opener for both teams.
But the Warhawks made it mighty interesting in the second half, scoring 20 unanswered points to pull within 35-27 with still 6:18 left after Caleb Evans hit Josh Pederson on a 23-yard strike in the back of the end zone. The extra point kick by Craig Ford was missed, keeping it an 8-point advantage.
On the ensuing series, Troy came up with a huge third-and-12 conversion from its 45 when quarterback Kaleb Barker hit Damion Willis for a 25-yard completion to the ULM 29 with 2:41 left.
The Warhawks’ defense then held strong and Tyler Sumpter missed a 46-yard field goal attempt with 2:24 left to play.
Taking over at its 29, ULM marched down the field in seven plays and faced a 1st-and-10 from the 11 after a 15-yard completion from Evans to Xavier Brown.
On the next play, however, Evans threw for Brown in the corner of the end zone and Jones leaped in front to come down with the big interception to seal the victory.
Troy improves to 3-1 overall, while ULM is now 2-2.
Barker was magnificent, especially in the first half, when he completed 16-of-17 passes for 216 yards and ran for 36 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns. For the game, Barker was 23-of-28 for 273 yards and ran for 50 yards on 15 carries. It was a career high for Barker in passing yards.
Back-up quarterback Sawyer Smith got in on the fun as well, completing 4-of-4 passes in the first half for 56 yards, including a TD strike to Willis.
Troy compiled 368 yards of offense in the first half while limiting ULM to 114 in a game that appeared to be virtually wrapped up by the Trojans at halftime until the Warhawks steadily battled back in the second half.
It didn’t start out so well for Troy as ULM scored on its opening possession, going 73 yards in 13 plays to lead 7-0 after Derrick Gore went in from 1-yard out and the extra point was made by Ford.
But that was pretty much the lone highlight for the Warhawks in the opening half.
Troy proceeded to score on its next five drives as the offense began clicking on all cylinders.
The Trojans went 76 yards on six plays on their second possession, culminated by a 19-yard run by Barker on an option keeper. Sumpter’s PAT tied it at 7-7 with seven minutes to play in the first quarter.
Jabir Daughtry-Frye had two big plays in the opening scoring drive, a 19-yard catch and then a 24-yard run down to the 27 of ULM before the Trojans eventually took it in.
Barker and Daughtry-Frye combined on another big play on the Trojans’ next scoring drive as the two connected on a 19-yard completion down to the 2. A play later, Barker ran it in for his second touchdown to give Troy a lead it would never relinquish.
The defense pushed ULM back on the ensuing possession as defensive end Hunter Reese sacked quarterback Evans for an 8-yard loss back to the Warhawks’ 12 on a third down play.
Taking over at the Troy 45 following the punt, Smith completed a 9-yard pass to Daughtry-Frye and an 8-yard pass to Sam Letton to quickly move the Trojans down to the ULM 38.
After Smith was dropped for a loss on first down, he connected with Deondre Douglas for 13 yards to the 26. On the next play, Smith hit Willis, who went up in traffic for a tremendous touchdown catch. Sumpter’s PAT made it 21-7 with 10:23 left in the first half to culminate a 5-play, 55-yard scoring drive in making it 21-7.
The Trojans made it 28-7 with just 2:20 left in the first half when Barker and Willis combined for a 4-yard scoring toss. The big play in the drive came on a 26-yard completion from Barker to Douglas down to the 3. Smith was dropped for a yard loss on first-and-goal before the Willis TD catch.
Troy made it a four-touchdown lead when Barker and Sidney Davis connected on a 22-yard score with just 42 seconds left before halftime.
ULM got the first points of the second half when Kayin White scored on a 2-yard run with 5:17 left in the third quarter in making it 35-14 after the extra point kick.
The Warhawks pulled within 35-21 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter when Evans threw a 4-yard scoring pass to Sloan Spiller.
For the game, Troy tallied 469 yards of total offense (329 passing, 140 rushing), while ULM compiled 490 (290 passing, 200 rushing).