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Heavy underdog Troy hangs in with Huskers

09/02/01

SOLOMON CRENSHAW JR.
News staff writer

LINCOLN, Neb. Nebraska defeated Troy State 42-14 Saturday, but the first-year Division I-A football team headed home proud of itself.

Proud that it took an early lead on the Cornhuskers.

Proud that it twice held the No.4 team in the country out of the end zone from 1-yard out and blocked a field goal.

Proud that, save some mistakes, it could have made the Memorial Stadium crowd of 77,812 sweat a little more.

"We had so many mistakes. That's what we're going to think about all the way home," Troy linebacker Jimmy McClain said. "If we could have eliminated those mistakes, we would have been fine. I guess this just shows the people in Las Vegas that they can't underestimate Troy State."

Nebraska by 53 was the early betting line on this game, which was Troy's first as a I-A school.

"Fifty-three points will never happen on us," McClain said.

Early on, the Trojans made that seem like a really bad bet.

After Troy's first drive stalled, David Philyaw forced Nebraska punt returner Keyuo Craver to fumble and Trojan Lee Walls recovered at the Huskers' 29.

Quarterback Brock Nutter threw a 20-yard pass to Heyward Skipper to the 9. Demontray Carter went the rest of the way on the next play, starting inside and bouncing outside, and the Trojans led 7-0.

The home team then sandwiched a pair of touchdown drives around a Nutter interception. Dahrran Diedrick completed an 11-yard, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard dive over the middle and quarterback Eric Crouch took the same flight pattern to cap an eight-play, 54-yard trip.

The Huskers scored twice more before intermission as Jon Clanton returned a fumble 20 yards and Diedrick added an 11-yard scoring run.

But Troy got back on the board with its first true drive, going 88 yards in nine plays. Nutter hit Skipper with a 31-yard pass to narrow the margin.

It could have been closer still just after halftime. Byron Knight forced Diedrick to fumble, Vernon Marable recovered and the Trojans were in business at the Nebraska 19.

Two plays later, Skipper broke free in the end zone but Nutter's pass lacked zip and went to the Huskers' Mark Vedral at the 4.

"There's many plays during the game a quarterback kind of (wants back)," Nutter said. "When we're sitting on the bus, that's the play."

The Trojans got no closer the rest of the day as the Huskers wore them down. Diedrick scored his third touchdown from 33 yards out and Thunder Collins raced in from 7.

Diedrick finished with 177 yards, his first 100-plus yard effort. Crouch completed eight of 15 passes for 109 yards and one interception after missing two practices last week with the flu.

"We didn't handle Nebraska but we handled the situation pretty well," Troy coach Larry Blakeney said. "It's hard for me to sit here and talk about accomplishing a lot after losing a game. That ain't why we come out here. We come out to play and win. But I was really proud of the way our players handled things."

Nutter had a career-high 36 pass attempts. He completed 15 for 190 yards and had two interceptions. Carter led Troy on the ground with 44 yards on 11 carries; as a team, the Trojans had minus-25 yards.

Nebraska sacked the Troy signal-caller eight times for 68 yards in losses.

"This team belongs at this level, no doubt," McClain said. "We showed out there we can play with anybody. We were leading Nebraska. We were beating Nebraska. If we don't make those mistakes, we win."

You win?

"Well," he shrugged, "it's a lot closer."

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