By Josh Brown
TROY — With all the chances Troy Christian gave itself in the first half, it was only a matter of time before the Eagles made good on one.
Hayden Hartman made sure they didn’t let a third one slip by.
Troy Christian’s senior quarterback carried the ball five times out of six plays on the Eagles’ final drive of the first half, finally scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the half to give his team some breathing room with a 14-0 lead at the break. He also added three touchdown passes and one more rushing touchdown in the game, and Troy Christian (6-1) cruised to a 35-7 victory Friday night at Eagle Stadium.
“He was fantastic,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Jones said of Hartman. “He ran and he threw and he tackled — and he even got an interception. It doesn’t get much better than that as far as an individual performance. That was just a fantastic game, a great individual effort.”
Hartman accounted for all five of the Eagles’ touchdowns —two rushing and three passing — and rushed for more than 200 yards in the game. He piled up 136 rushing yards and 46 passing yards in the first half alone, then hit Peyton Spurlock for a 39-yard touchdown early in the third quarter as the Eagles ran off 20 unanswered points to begin the game. Tri-County North began to fight back in the third after throwing three first-half interceptions, but the Eagles responded quickly with a 45-yard Hartman touchdown run and a two-point conversion to go up by three touchdowns, and it was over from there.
“Based on what their defense was giving us, it required him to run the ball a bit more. And he’s done a good job with that all year,” Jones said. “He’s a tough runner, he’s hard to tackle, and he showed that he has a bit of speed there in the second half.
“The offensive line blocked well all night, Louden Saulbeamer at fullback did a great job, and it opened up holes for Hartman and Jacob (Calvert) all night. And those same guys that opened up the holes turn around at change of possession and do the same thing on defense. A pretty impressive night all around for guys like Peyton Forrer, Seth Douglas, David Blake, Matthew Boone and Caleb Salazar. They did an unbelievable job all night.”
The Eagle defense got things rolling to start the game, though. After a three-and-out by Troy Christian on the game’s opening possession, the Eagles forced a turnover on downs back at the Panthers’ own 38-yard line. Faced with fourth-and-13 from the 41, though, Hartman hit Jacob Brown down the right sideline for a critical 37-yard gain to set up first-and-goal, and two plays later Hartman hit Louden Saulbeamer on a 4-yard touchdown pass to put Troy Christian up 7-0 with 5:00 to play in the first quarter.
Three plays into Tri-County North’s (4-3) ensuing drive, Brown intercepted a Bo Hendrickson pass, and the Eagles took over at their own 10. Troy Christian’s drive lasted 12 plays and got the ball to the Panther 21, but a dropped pass on fourth-and-2 gave the ball back to North.
Troy Christian got the ball back seven plays later, though, as a tipped pass at the line was intercepted by Cameron Strine at the Eagle 22. Eleven plays later, though, an incomplete pass on fourth-and-5 from the Panthers’ 16-yard line turned the ball over on downs again, Troy Christian missing a second opportunity to add to their lead.
On the fifth play of Tri-County North’s ensuing drive, Hartman picked off a third Hendrickson pass, setting the Eagles up in Panther territory at the 44. Five runs by Hartman later, the senior broke into the end zone from 3 yards out to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead with 49 seconds left in the first half — and that’s where things remained at the break.
“We’ve got some athletic kids in the secondary,” Jones said. “They can make plays when they get the opportunity. They’ve been playing defensive back for several years for us, have some experience, they’ve become batter tacklers this year and they’re really good cover guys. Brown, Spurlock, Hartman and Strine — a lot of them play receiver for us, too, so they’ve got good hands. They can all make plays, and they showed that tonight.
“We were able to get up on their quarterback and force him into some bad passes tonight. Those defensive lineman got in there — and that’s where it starts. We talked all week about the game being won in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and I think that’s how it turned out.”
After forcing a Panther three-and-out to open the second half, Troy Christian quickly added to its lead as Hartman hit Peyton Spurlock over the middle on a short slant route, and Spurlock took it the rest of the way on a 36-yard touchdown reception to put the Eagles up 20-0.
The Panther finally broke onto the scoreboard as Tanner Booth broke a 45-yard touchdown run with 6:22 left in the third quarter to make it a 13-point game — but Hartman answered in a hurry, breaking a 45-yard touchdown run of his own and then hitting Brown for a two-point conversion pass to make it 28-7 Troy Christian with 4:46 left in the third.
With 29 seconds remaining in the third, Hartman hit Spurlock once again, this time with a 40-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone, giving the Eagles a 35-7 lead — and the defense did the rest, holding the Panthers in check the entire fourth quarter to put the game away.
“Tri-County North is a well-coached team, a physical team,” Jones said. “They find your weakness, and they attack it. We were just really happy with the way the defense played. We made some adjustments at halftime, and the guys made some great plays in the second half. They were determined to play a full four-quarter game. It was a total team victory.”
Troy Christian travels to Arcanum in Week 8 and then heads to Miami East for a critical Week 9 showdown before returning home to close out the season against Mississinawa Valley.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.