The more Shawnee scored the more mistakes it made. Penalties and turnovers were mounting and everyone who made the trip from Springfield on Friday was willing the clock to keep running.
It finally ran out and head coach Rick Meeks was relieved. The Braves had held on for a 31-28 victory over Troy despite 14 penalties and an interception returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
“We kept them in the game, we kept them in the game, we kept them in the game,” Meeks said. “That was disappointing that they still had a chance to get us there at the end after we outplayed them.”
Shawnee (2-0) outgained Troy (0-2) 443 yards to 226. The Braves converted third downs and stuffed the Trojans many times on third-and-short. Senior running back and linebacker Jalen Nelson helped stuff Troy rushers Miles Hibler and Brandon Lee and he gashed Troy’s front line for 138 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
“We played hard and fast, and that’s going to win ballgames,” Nelson said. “It was all together, and that’s how we want to play all year.”
Nelson gave credit to senior nose guard Jeff VanZant whose 270 pounds drew double teams.
“The linemen stood their ground and let the linebackers fly,” Nelson said. “Jeff VanZant opened the lanes for us.”
Braves sophomore quarterback Saalih Muhammad rushed for 115 yards and threw for 80. His 44-yard touchdown sprint up the middle gave the Braves a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. After Troy rallied to lead 14-10 on Hibler’s 56-yard dash, the Braves rallied behind Muhammad to a 24-14 lead. Then he underthrew Nelson to the outside and Troy’s Alex Magoteaux returned an interception 39 yards to cut the Braves’ lead to 24-22. The teams traded scores again before Shawnee ran out the clock.
Troy started several sophomores, but second-year coach Scot Brewer has hope after he saw his brother, Ryan Brewer, honored as part of the first Troy Hall of Fame class.
“His senior year they started 0-2 and then ran the table,” Brewer said. “We’ve got the ability to do it.”
Shawnee lost to Troy 41-14 last year when eight starters were missing before making a run to the playoffs. These Braves are young but healthy.
“I’m pleased that we’re 2-0 and we’re developing,” Meeks said. “I wouldn’t say ecstatic because we still make … we get those mistakes fixed we’ll be dangerous.”