Louisiana-Monroe football trounces Troy, snaps eight-game Sun Belt Conference losing skid
Terry Bowden embraced the importance of Louisiana-Monroe’s Sun Belt Conference opener. Troy would tell Bowden exactly where the Warhawks are in this first-year rebuild, more than a loss to Kentucky or a win over Jackson State.
The final assessment? Another step in the right direction.
ULM (2-1, 1-0 SBC) snapped an eight-game conference losing streak in a 29-16 victory over Troy (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday night at Malone Stadium. A crowd of 12,766 watched the Warhawks win back-to-back games for the first time since November 2018.
Troy entered the game as 23.5-point favorites.
"It's as big as any win I’ve had in my career," Bowden said. "Each place I go, there’s just a game you want to be a defining moment and we have to build from this.
"We've just won two games and we've got a long way to go, but if anything else, we've got our nose pointing in the right direction."
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Warhawks stymie Troy defensively
Linebacker Ja'Cquez Williams, a Wake Forest transfer, crushed Troy's comeback hope with a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The score was just short of a program record. Former All-American Pat Dennis returned an interception 100 yards against Nicholls State in 1998.
"That was just a byproduct of me trying to finish the play," Williams said. "The ball popped up and it seemed like it just hung in the air forever. I just caught it in stride and just did what I know how to do best."
ULM's defense, now a strength under first-year coordinator Zach Alley, sacked Troy quarterback Taylor Powell three times. The Warhawks held the Trojans to 52 yards rushing.
Linebacker Traveion Webster and defensive back Adam Sparks led ULM with nine tackles. Defensive end Ty Shelby had four tackles, a sack and caused a safety early in the fourth quarter.
Troy gained 80 of its 364 total yards on its final drive, which ended in a four-yard touchdown pass from Powell to Jamontez Woods.
"When you play great defense, you can play against everybody," Bowden said. "You might have to get hot one day offensively to beat some of the better teams, but by playing great defense, you can compete against everybody in the conference."
Two quarterbacks better than one
Quarterbacks Rhett Rodriguez and Chandler Rogers directed the most productive offensive showing of the season. Rodriguez had the better day statistically, completing 10-of-16 attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown. Rogers made his impact on the ground, carrying eight times for 30 yards.
"It's good to have flexibility in what we can do," Rodriguez said. "Chandler's a little bit faster than I am and he's a really good quarterback. We have a lot of good quarterbacks on our team so we're really just trying to do what's best for the team.
"We all get along really well and we're all just ready whenever our name is called."
Kicker Calum Sutherland had another productive outing, going 2-for-2 with a long of 32 yards.
Playmakers emerge for ULM
Zach Jackson provided the big-play threat ULM lacked through two games. Jackson caught a 37-yard touchdown from Rodriguez for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. He made a 15-yard reception in the third quarter that allowed the Warhawks to answer a Troy touchdown with Sutherland’s 32-yard field goal.
Jackson finished with four catches for 80 yards and the touchdown.
"Zach had a great game," Rodriguez said. "He's one of those guys that's gotten better and better as fall camp went on. We've got a lot of playmakers. As the weeks go by, you never know who's going to step up and make a play and that's exciting
Andrew Henry, a junior-college transfer, emerged from a crowded backfield to lead ULM with 105 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. His 40-yard rushing score early in the third quarter put the Warhawks ahead by two touchdowns.
"You saw Andrew Henry became the guy that we left in there almost all the time," Bowden said. "There were a lot of plays that got one or two yard, but we feel like now after three games, he is the back that gives us the best chance to have big plays."
First drives are the best drives
ULM has scored on its first possession in all three games. Rodriguez’s touchdown pass to Jackson capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive. This was the first time the Warhawks scored a touchdown on an opening drive without the aid of a turnover.
Field position was on ULM’s side in the first half. Troy only crossed midfield once, capitalizing on a turnover. Brooks Buce booted a 32-yard field goal with 1:31 left in the second quarter. The Warhawks went into halftime leading 10-3.
ULM honors Stepfret Williams
Stepfret Williams returned to Malone Stadium as an honorary captain. Williams, ULM’s all-time leading receiver, was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft. He made 168 career receptions for 3,177 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Stan Humphries, the quarterback of ULM’s 1987 FCS national championship team, was the honorary captain against Jackson State.
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