Troy 24, LSU 21.
For the Tigers, it was a night that will live in infamy, although one that actually proved the old axiom about the sun coming up tomorrow.
For the Trojans, it was a night of gridiron glory, the eternal football-shaped Christmas present.
Since Sept. 30, when people have chatted up Troy athletic director Jeremy McClain in airports, their eyes light up like he’d just upgraded them to first class when they find out where he works.
“’Oh, yeah, you guys beat LSU this year,’” McClain recalled the conversations.
Troy won 10 games, shared the Sun Belt championship with Appalachian State and is paired with North Texas in Saturday’s New Orleans Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But it’s that LSU victory that has generated unprecedented buzz for Troy this season. Ultimately, for what it’s meant to the school, McClain can live with that.
“We’ve been winning football games for a long time at Troy,” McClain said Thursday at New Orleans Bowl media day. “But sometimes winning one on that stage takes it to another level from a national perspective. It was huge for us in that regard. We were the lead story on 'SportsCenter' for 24 hours.”
This time, there was no comeback.
McClain said beating LSU coupled with Troy’s recent run of success — 20 wins the past two years — has made an impact on applications and enrollment. Troy coach Neal Brown said the subsequent media frenzy opened recruiting doors for his coaches that otherwise might have remained shut.
“Even the people who have to stop and say — ‘Now, Troy University. Where exactly is that?’ — that’s OK,” McClain said. “Because people are asking the question. That’s what we want.
It was just the second win in 22 tries for Troy against a ranked team (LSU was No. 25 in the AP poll that week) and just the Trojans’ third win in 24 games against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
Long after they hang up their helmets and pads and the cheers fade into silence, that night will still be alive for players like Troy defensive tackle Jamal Stadom.
“That’s a game I’m going to remember the rest of my life,” he said. “Just the atmosphere of it. Troy played LSU a few times and came close, but coach Brown challenged us to ask if we were going to be different. We were just fired up. I knew we were going to play well.
“We were like, ‘We really beat them. We really did it. We just beat LSU.’ ”
Do the Troy players realize what a systemic shock their upset was to LSU? They not only snapped the Tigers’ 49-game non-conference home winning streak but also parked a huge cloud over coach Ed Orgeron and athletic director Joe Alleva, a cloud that took months to blow away.
Two months later, quarterback Brandon Silvers, who went 16 of 28 for 157 yards that night, focuses instead on the season LSU went on to have. The Tigers won six of their last seven games to finish 9-3 and wind up against Notre Dame in the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl, the SEC’s top non-CFP bowl destination. Coach O and his players have frequently credited that Troy debacle as a turning point in a season that at the time appeared to be adrift.
“They beat Auburn, and Auburn beat two No. 1 teams,” Silvers said. “I think coach (Nick) Saban said the worst thing that happened to (Alabama) was us beating them.”
In a remarkable piece of football irony, Troy had its “Troy debacle” a week after the LSU upset. The Trojans returned home Oct. 11 in a Wednesday night showcase on ESPN2 and were listless and mistake-prone in a 19-8 loss to rival South Alabama. Like the Tigers, the Trojans killed themselves with four turnovers.
“I’m not sure it didn’t hurt our season as much as anything,” Brown said of the LSU win. “We came back the following week and lost our rivalry game, and if we’d won that game we could have won the conference outright.
“But what it did for our university, I’m not sure you could put a dollar amount on it, for the amount of media coverage we got after that win. To get to where we want to be, we need to beat a name-brand opponent. So we were able to accomplish that.”
There is but one question remaining out of all of this:
Would LSU ever invite Troy to play again?
“They probably would so they could get it back,” Brown said with a laugh. “I’ll tell you what, Ed Orgeron has done a really good job since our game. They played well down the stretch. I think it speaks well for all of them.”
Perhaps it does. But it’s Troy that owns the upset for the ages, something a school in LSU’s position never really has a chance to savor.