By David Fong
TROY — At the heart of it, the sport of football is a pretty simple game.
Running. Throwing. Catching. Tackling.
And Friday night at Troy Memorial Stadium — in the most prolific rivalry in Ohio high school football history — Piqua didn’t have to do anything particularly fancy to hand the Trojans a 26-7 loss. Simply put, the Indians did all the basic things better than the Trojans, and the result saw the Indians take a 63-62-7 all-time series lead over their rivals.
With the loss, Troy finished the season 2-8 (1-4 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division), while Piqua raised its record to 6-4 (3-2 in the GWOC North) and will now play the waiting game to see if it sneaks into the Division III playoffs.
“We knew when they had the ball in their hands, they could take time off the clock,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said following the final game of his debut season. “That’s the type of offense they run. We didn’t do a very good job of keeping drives alive. We had a lot of dropped passes. They weren’t always perfectly thrown balls, but we had some drops at inopportune times.”
Piqua, meanwhile, didn’t have to worry much about dropped passes, mostly because the Indians rarely needed to pass the ball at all —not with junior running back Darien Tipps-Clemons in the backfield, anyway. Tipps-Clemons, the game’s Great American Rivalry Series Most Valuable Player — finished the game with 25 carries for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
“Tipps-Clemons is a great running back,” Burgbacher said. “We knew that coming in.”
Tipps-Clemons finished the first half with 17 carries for 134 yards — but thanks in part to a bend-but-don’t-break Trojan defense, the Indians led just 7-0 at halftime. While Piqua’s offense was moving the ball all over the field, the Trojan defense grew stingy when the Indians moved in the red zone.
Drake McDonagh intercepted a Rupert Delacruz pass once when the Indians had the ball inside the Trojan 10, and Troy’s defense forced the Indians into a missed field goal attempt just before halftime on another drive.
Piqua did got on the board in the second quarter on a 5-yard quarterback keeper by Delacruz.
“We were right in it,” Burgbacher said. “Our defense was playing well. Honestly, our defense played as well at it has all year, I thought.”
Finally, though, just three plays into the second half, Tipps-Clemons broke free on a 65-yard touchdown run, giving the Indians a 13-0 lead.
“That big run hurt us,” Burgbacher said. “We knew we had to contain him, but he was able to make a play on that run.”
While Piqua’s offense was hitting its stride in the second half, Troy’s continued to sputter. The Trojans went three-and-out on their first drive and, following a 15-yard punt deep in Trojan territory, Piqua took over at the Trojan 29. Eight plays later, Tipps-Clemons pounded his way into the end zone from 5 yards out, extending the Indian lead to 20-0.
Finally, early in the fourth quarter, Troy — aided by several Piqua penalties — was able to get something going on offense. Kotwica hooked up with Luke Robinson on a 39-yard pass to the Indian 5 yard line. Three plays later, Kotwica scored on a 1-yard run to cut Piqua’s lead to 20-6.
Not that it mattered, however, as Piqua promptly went on an 89-yard touchdown drive that ate up nearly all of the remaining time and culminated in Tipps-Clemons’ third touchdown of the night, icing the game for the Indians.
Despite the frustrating end to a 2-8 season, Burgbacher said he was pleased with the progress the Trojans made during the season.
“We are headed in the right direction,” he said. “The foundation has been laid. The expectations have been laid. We learned so many life lessons this season — lessons that are going to take us to the top.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong