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Trotter returns, leads Jags to 30-20 win over TSU

It was a long layoff for South Alabama, but an even longer one for Desmond Trotter.

And yet the Jaguars and their sophomore quarterback were able to bounce back with a 30-20 victory over Texas State at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Trotter missed the Jaguars’ Sept. 24 game against UAB due to illness and sat out with the rest of his team during a 23-day pause caused by a COVID-19 outbreak and a previously scheduled open date.

There were rusty moments at times for sure for Trotter and South Alabama, but the day ended well. Trotter threw for 187 yards and a touchdown, an 8-yarder to Kawaan Baker in the fourth quarter that put the Jaguars on top to stay.

“Getting this win was huge,” Trotter said. “Coming off of that layoff, everyone was fresh. This was a huge win going into conference (play), now we’re just looking toward next week.”

The victory evens the Jaguars’ record at 2-2 overall and makes them 1-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. At least for now, USA is alone in first place in the Sun Belt West Division.

It was also the first South Alabama victory in the brief history of Hancock Whitney Stadium, following September losses to Tulane and UAB. The Jaguars’ on-campus facility opened this fall.

“It’s huge for a lot of different reasons,” Campbell said. “It’s the first win in Hancock Whitney, but also, we needed to get a win and get back going again. I thought we started the season off hot, but we definitely cooled off for a little while. … The biggest deal for us, in our half of the conference, we’re not looking up at anybody. We can only do what we can do. We’ve played one (conference game) and we won it. Now we just have to take care of business.”

South Alabama never trailed in the second half, but did have a few tense moments. The Jaguars went three-and-out three straight times to begin the second half, allowing Texas State (1-5, 1-2) to tie the game 17-17 on Brock Sturges’ 1-yard run.

The USA defense came up big with a little more than four minutes to go in the third, when linebacker Riley Cole — who had a career-high 15 tackles, 10 solo — dropped Texas State quarterback Brady McBride for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-2.

“They throw a lot of screens and tried to get to the outside early,” South Alabama safety Dewayne Betts said. “Once we noticed they were getting to the edge, we tightened it up and started playing. Their receivers weren’t really blocking, so we were able to get off the blocks. We had to play harder than they played. I just like the way the defense made stops when we needed to.”

RELATED: Quarter-by-quarter look at South Alabama’s 30-20 win over Texas State

Trotter started the game, but was replaced in the second quarter by back-up quarterback Chance Lovertich. The junior-college transfer led a touchdown drive at the end of the first half to put the Jaguars up 17-10, but could not get the offense moving after halftime and Trotter returned midway through the third.

Trotter led a drive to a 24-yard Diego Guajardo field goal that made it 20-17 with 14:01 to play, then put the Jaguars up for good after Seth Keller’s 41-yard kick tied it with 10:30 left. South Alabama was helped along by a horse-collar tackle on a run by Carlos Davis, who also converted on third-and-1 with a 2-yard run to the 10.

On third-and-goal from the 8, Trotter zipped a pass in to Baker at the 1. The senior wide receiver then stepped over the goal line for the touchdown to make it 27-20 with 7:10 left.

“I just remember that I couldn’t take a sack,” Trotter said. “I knew we had to score. They kind of went Cover 2 right there and I knew I had to come to my mesh (route). I just guided the linebacker with my eyes and was able to get it in to KB.”

South Alabama’s defense then forced a punt, with cornerback Ryan Melton stuffing Sturges on third-and-1. The Jaguars moved inside the 30 before stalling out, and Guajardo came on and drilled a 44-yarder to put the game away with 1:09 left.

Trotter ended the day 18-for-22 for 187 yards and a touchdown, while Lovertich was 7-for-12 for 66 yards and a score. Jalen Tolbert caught a career-best 9 passes for 91 yards and a TD, while Davis ground out 113 yards on 32 carries.

“They didn’t want us to get big plays — post balls, go balls — so we had to take little stuff under them,” Tolbert said. “It was just eating them up. Chance and Des were both able to connect on a lot of passes, and it helped us get a win today.”

South Alabama led 17-10 at halftime after scoring on three of its four first-half possessions. A personal foul penalty in the red zone stalled the first drive and led to Guajardo’s 30-yard field goal and a 3-0 Jaguars lead with 6:53 left in the quarter.

Texas State answered with a touchdown, McBride’s 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jackson Lanam. The Bobcats led 7-3 after one quarter.

The Jaguars followed with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by Carlos Davis’ 1-yard run and a 10-7 lead with 13:19 left in the half. After Texas State punted, South Alabama turned the ball over on downs when Trotter was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the 40.

Texas State added a tying field goal, Seth Keller’s 30-yarder with 4:48 remaining. That’s when things got wild.

Lovertich replaced Trotter under center, and led the go-ahead scoring drive. The Jaguars got inside the 10, then scored had two apparent touchdowns overturned by lengthy replay reviews (though both appeared to be the correct call).

Lovertich first hit Jalen Tolbert on a 6-yard touchdown, but replay showed that he never had possession. Lovertich scrambled and dove for what was first ruled a 6-yard score, but replay showed he was out of bounds at the 1.

However, the Bobcats were called for defensive holding on the play, which gave South Alabama another third-down try from the 1. Lovertich lobbed the ball to Tolbert in the corner of the end zone, and Tolbert came down with it despite being interfered with.

“I’ve never been through an hour-and-a-half in my life like the last two minutes of the first half,” Campbell said.

South Alabama remains at home next Saturday, hosting winless ULM at 6 p.m.

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