By David Fong
TROY — In the biggest game of the season, when the Troy Christian football team needed it most, the Eagles ran out of magic.
Down 21-7 at halftime and 27-7 early in the third quarter, Troy Christian couldn’t quite pull off another amazing comeback, falling 27-21 to Upper Scioto Valley in a Division VII regional quarterfinal playoff game at Troy Christian High School. It was the first home playoff game in school history.
“We’ve been down at halftime before, and we’ve come back before,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Jones said. “But football is a game of hits and misses. We had some misses — some near misses — tonight. We just couldn’t get the big play when we needed it.”
Upper Scioto Valley went up 27-7 in the third quarter on Austin Sloan’s third touchdown of the night. At that point, Sloan had 12 carries for 231 yards, including touchdown runs of 67 and 85 yards in the first half. He was injured on his next carry, however, and didn’t return tot he game. He ran just three plays in the entire second half.
With Sloan on the bench, Upper Scioto Valley’s offense struggled to move the ball, giving Troy Christian several opportunities to mount a comeback. The Eagles cut the lead to 27-14 on a 48 yard touchdown pass from Hayden Hartman to Jacob Brown.
Troy Christian’s defense forced a quick punt by the Rams, and just five plays later, Hartman hooked up with Brown on a 26 yard touchdown pass. Brown had more than 125 receiving yards to go along with his two touchdown catches, while Hartman threw for more than 200 yards and rushed for more than 100 yards.
Down just 27-21 midway through the third quarter, Troy Christian appeared to have all the momentum and plenty of time to take the lead.
That never quite materialized, however, as the Eagle offense struggled to move the ball.
“We had momentum, we just never could take advantage of it,” Jones said. “But our kids never quit. They fought to the bitter end. I’m proud of them.”
Early on, Troy Christian had no answer for Sloan.
After Upper Scioto Valley’s defense forced a punt on the Eagles’ opening drive, the Rams needed just one play — a 67 yard run by senior tailback Austin Sloan — to go up 7-0.
The Eagles would get the ball back and drive down to the Upper Scioto Valley 10, but the drive would stall on a pair of incompletions. The Rams would take over and, just three plays later, Sloan would break free on an 85 yard touchdown run to put his team up 14-0.
Sloan would finish the first half with 9 carries for 223 rushing yards — a staggering 24.8 yards per carry.
Troy Christian would finally get some momentum going midway through the second quarter when Peyton Spurlock picked off a pass at the Rams’ 35. Spurlock then caught a 20-yard pass from Hartman, setting up Jacob Calvert’s 15-yard touchdown run, cutting Upper Scioto Valley’s lead to 14-7.
The Eagles would return the favor late in the second quarter, however, when the Rams’ Chase Rose picked off a pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown, extending the lead to 21-7 going into halftime.
Upper Scioto Valley was a model of efficiency in the first half, scoring 21 points on just 16 offensive plays. Troy Christian managed just seven points on 40 plays in the first half.
Troy Christian finished its first year under Jones 9-2 and ranked in the final regular season state poll.
“It was a great season,” Jones said. “It’s the guys on this team who made it great. This is a great group. It’s a great group of seniors. These guys worked hard on the field and we even better guys off the field. I’m so proud of them.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong