By David Fong
TROY — The Troy football team has made a habit of saving the best for last this season.
Troy — which will host Cincinnati Anderson at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a Division II regional quarterfinal playoff game at Troy Memorial Stadium — has put together a 9-1 record, it’s best since 2000, based largely on strong second-half performances.
During the regular season, the Trojans outscored the opposition by a combined score of 159-61 in the second half. Only twice were the Trojans outscored in the second half in 10 games: against Fairborn in a blowout Troy win that saw the starters sit almost the entire second half, and in the lone loss of the season, 21-17 to Miamisburg.
Some of Troy’s dominance in the second half is based on adjustments, Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said, but the bigger element is the conditioning and depth of his team.
“I think it’s some of both,” Burgbacher said. “We’ll make some adjustments at halftime on offense and defense — but usually it’s nothing major. We’ll tweak some things here and there. I think the bigger thing is our kids getting stronger as the game goes on. They have a confidence that they can go a full 48 minutes. They know they are in great shape. They aren’t afraid to go full speed for 48 minutes and run out of gas at the end.
“The fact we don’t have a lot of guys going both ways really helps us, too. We don’t have guys who have to play offense while worrying about saving something for defense, too. We’ve seen a lot of teams this season that have had guys going both ways and I think we have been able to wear some teams down this season.
It was once said of a former Troy resident that, “all he does is catch touchdown passes.”
That’s what NFL coaching legend Buddy Ryan once said of NFL Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, who spent his youth in Troy before moving to Middletown to play high school football and basketball. That phrase would follow Carter throughout his NFL career as ESPN’s Chris Berman helped popularize it.
This season, it would be an apt phrase to describe Trojan senior receiver Zion Taylor. Nearly 33 percent of Taylor’s 18 touchdown catches — five, including one in each of Troy’s last six games of the regular season — have gone for touchdowns this season. He’s also racked up 296 receiving yards to go along with those touchdowns.
“Zion is not our fastest kid or our quickest kid, necessarily, but he’s just got a knack for getting open,” Burgbacher said. “He runs great routes. He just knows how to get open. He’s a kid who has really bought in to what we are tying to do and has done a very good job for us this season. He’s really stepped up this year.”
There In Spirit
Trojan starting linebacker Jacob Stewart was lost for the season after the fourth game following a devastating knee injury. He was on the sidelines much of the second half of the season before undergoing surgery the day before last week’s Troy-Piqua game.
Following the surgery, he was unable to make it back to the sidelines for the 132nd meeting between the Trojans and the Indians, but a teammate made sure he was there in spirit.
Fellow senior Hayden Jackson put Stewart’s No. 7 on the back of Troy’s bench for the game and wore a No. 7 on his wristband for the game. He also wore a pair of Stewart’s cleats for the game, even though they weren’t a perfect fit.
After the game, Jackson hand-delivered to Stewart the “Great American Rivalry Series” hat and T-shirt every player on the winning team received after the game.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong