UK Football

Kentuckian Neal Brown’s team bags another big college football upset

Troy players celebrated after their 24-19 victory at Nebraska. The Trojans were a 9 1/2-point underdog entering Saturday’s game in Lincoln.
Troy players celebrated after their 24-19 victory at Nebraska. The Trojans were a 9 1/2-point underdog entering Saturday’s game in Lincoln. AP

Kentucky native Neal Brown has a taste for the big stage.

The Troy University head football coach, known to most in the Bluegrass as a former University of Kentucky player and assistant coach, led his team into the home of one of college football’s most tradition-rich programs for the second year in a row on Saturday.

And for the second year in a row, Brown’s Trojans left with an upset victory.

Troy, from the Sun Belt Conference, defeated Nebraska, from the Big Ten, 24-19 at Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday. That stunner came a little less than a year after the Trojans knocked off then-No. 22-ranked LSU 24-21 at Baton Rouge, La..

Troy improved to 2-1 on the season. Nebraska fell to 0-2.

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Troy head coach Neal Brown waved to fans on his way off the field after Saturday’s 24-19 victory at Nebraska. Nati Harnik AP

Brown, who grew up in Bardstown before moving to Danville, was an all-state wide receiver at Boyle County High School. He played at Kentucky from 1998-2000 and was a two-year letterman, catching 10 passes, including one for a touchdown. He was a member of UK’s Outback Bowl and Music City Bowl teams and was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll before transferring to Massachusetts.

Brown returned to UK in 2013 as Mark Stoops’ first offensive coordinator. He left after two seasons to take the head coaching job at Troy.

Brown is 40-26 in his fourth season at Troy, where his teams have finished 10-3 and 11-2 the past two seasons. In 2016, Troy defeated Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl. Last season, the Trojans topped North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl.

Brown signed a four-year contract extension with Troy after the 2016 season. His athletic director, Jeremy McClain, expressed a clear understanding at the time of what he had in Brown.

“We are trying to keep Brown and his staff here as long as possible,” McClain told the Troy Messenger. “Coach Brown’s leadership has been crucial to turning this thing around.”

In Saturday’s win, B.J. Smith scored on a 26-yard run midway through the fourth quarter and Will Sunderland made an interception in the final three minutes, giving Troy the cushion it needed to beat Nebraska and deny new Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost his first win.

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Troy head coach Neal Brown, right, chatted with Nebraska first-year coach Scott Frost before Saturday’s game in Lincoln, Neb. Nati Harnik AP

The Huskers (0-2) have lost their first two games for the first time since 1957 and have dropped six straight home games since beating Rutgers on Sept. 23, 2017.

“I thought we showed tremendous grit and determination,” Brown said afterward. “We didn’t play great football as we went through the game. But I thought our kids played really at a high level special teams-wise. I thought our defense bent but they didn’t break. I thought we flew to the ball and tackled better than we have at any point this season. Offensively, we just found some ways to make some key plays.”

Cedarius Rookard ran back a punt 58 yards for a touchdown, Smith scored two touchdowns and ran for a team-high 70 yards and linebacker Tron Folsom had 14 tackles, a sack and another tackle for loss for Troy.

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Sophomore walk-on Andrew Bunch, starting at quarterback for Nebraska in place of the injured Adrian Martinez, converted a fourth-and-8 while leading the Huskers on a 75-yard drive to pull Nebraska to 24-19 with 2:55 left.

But Sunderland stepped in front of his pass along the sideline intended for JD Spielman, starting the celebration on the Troy bench.

“I think we’re a better team than what the results say we are, but that doesn’t matter,” Frost said. “I just got done telling the team that when things get tough like this, you got two choices: you fight back and work even harder or you give up. I told them if anybody doesn’t want to stay on for this ride, let me know and get off, because I know where this is going. We just haven’t had the results early that we need.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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