By David Fong
TROY — When it comes to the Troy football team, there’s no more using the “f-word.”
That’s because last year wasn’t a “fluke” — and the Trojans are for real.
One year after the Trojans pulled off one of the greatest upsets in school history by knocking off state-ranked Trotwood-Madison, Troy made good on its promise to prove last year’s result wasn’t an aberration, knocking off the Rams for a second time, 10-6, Saturday morning at Troy Memorial Stadium. With the win, Troy is off to a 1-0 start this season, while Trotwood fell to 0-1.
“Except for maybe a couple of people around town and the people within this program, I don’t know that a whole of people thought we could come out and do this again,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “Our kids played with a lot of heart. I’m just so proud of how these kids played.”
Troy started the day down 6-3. The game began Friday night, but lightning postponed the game at halftime, pushing the start of the second half back to Saturday morning. Troy’s defense picked up right where it left off, shutting out and shutting down the Rams’ normally high-powered offense, including superstar running back Raveion Hargrove.
Troy’s defense held Hargrove — who rushed for 3,039 yards and 39 touchdowns last season while averaging 233.8 rushing yards per game — to 18 carries for 75 yards in the season opener. His lone score came on a 14-yard run in the first half on the play following a Troy fumble. It was the longest run of the game for Hargrove, who averaged 11.3 yards per carry last season.
“Don’t let him get started,” Troy defensive coordinator Charlie Burgbacher said of his strategy for slowing down Hargrove. “It’s when he gets in space that he can run all over the place. You’ve got to get to him in the backfield and not let him get going.”
It was an incredible debut for a Trojan defense that gave up 32.3 points per game last season — 17th out of 18 teams in the Greater Western Ohio Conference.
“That was the biggest game I’ve ever been in and the defense really stepped up,” said Troy defensive back Jake Anderson, who had an interception early in the game and a key pass break up late in the game, in addition to kicking a field goal for Troy’s only points of the first half. “We’ve been prepping this for months. Ever since camp started, we’ve been looking at this game and we knew we had to stop (Hargrove).”
In fact, it was Troy’s defense that sealed the game late for the Trojans.
After Troy went up 10-6 on quarterback Hayden Kotwica’s 21-yard run late in the third quarter, Troy had several chances to put the game away in the fourth quarter, twice driving inside the Rams’ 30-yard line, only to come way with no points both times. With a little more than two minutes to play and the Trojans still clinging to a 10-6 lead, the Trojans punted from midfield and Trotwood returner Caleb Johnson brought it all the way back to the Trojan 40 before Troy’s Spencer Klopfenstein dragged him to the ground.
Trotwood quarterback Markell Stephens-Peppers — who had been harassed by a hard-charging Trojan defensive line the entire game — caught fire, competing three long passes and running the ball down to the Troy 25. On second down, however, Troy defensive tackle Logan Hubbard broke through the Rams’ offensive line and forced Stephens-Peppers into an off-balance throw, which Troy linenbacker Will Brumfield picked off at the Trojan 17.
“They were just blocking in their regular pass pro,” Hubbard said. “I saw an opportunity and I just kept rushing. I bounced off a guy and went for it. I thought I had the sack. I didn’t know what happened after he threw the ball, but I turned around and saw Will had the ball.”
Trotwood had no timeouts left, meaning the Trojans were able to go into victory formation — Brumfield’s interception with 1:30 to play had essentially sealed the victory.
“It’s just a beautiful thing when a guy doesn’t have time to throw and it just flutters like it was dropped from God,” Brumfield said. “I give it 100 percent to the defensive line — I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Brumfield said it was a long offseason for the defense, which knew it had to get better if the Trojans hoped to improve upon their 2-8 record from a year ago. Last season, Troy averaged 23.0 points per game, but actually lost four games in which it scored 26 points or more.
“I think we all bought into it over the summer — and obviously the offense was the driving point of our team last summer,” he said. “When we get in practices and start taking it to our offense — which we believe is the best in the GWOC — we feel like we can play with anybody. The biggest thing was guys coming out and playing with confidence; we can play with anybody ths year.”
Burgbacher said the scout team gave the defense great looks all week in practice, as well.
“Our scout team did a phenomenal job simulating Trotwood’s offense and getting our defense ready,” Burgbacher said.
With the defense clicking, Troy’s offense was able to do just enough to pull out the win. The Trojans had five drives inside the Rams’ 30 that resulted in just 10 points. The most effective weapon was Kotwica — who threw for a school-record 2,120 yards last year — running the ball. He completed 8 of 17 passes for 76 yards, but carried the ball 19 times for 85 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
“We just stuck to the run game and our line blocked their butts off,” Kotwica said. “We just stuck to our game plan and took home this win.”
As impressive as that victory was, however, Burgbacher knows now is not the time to get complacent. Troy started off the season with an upset win last year — then lost its next five games on the way to a 2-8 record.
“We cannot get overconfident,” he said. “We’ll enjoy this, but now we’ve got to get ready for next week. We’ve got to take everything one game at a time.”
And prove, yet again, Saturday’s win wasn’t a fluke.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong