It was like watching a child take his first steps, learn to ride a bike, graduate high school and get married … all in the course of 48 minutes.
Sure, there were stumbles and scraped knees — mixed in with healthy doses hiccups and heartbreak — for the Troy football team in Friday night’s 41-36 win over Bellefontaine, but ultimately, the perilous journey led to a glorious final destination.
Friday night, the Troy football team grew up and boys became men right before our very eyes.
For two quarters, it looked as if the undefeated Troy football team had reverted back to what we’ve seen in the recent past — a Trojan team travels to hostile territory, looks sluggish getting off the bus, gets off to a slow start and is essentially waving the white flag by the time halftime rolls around. Bellefontaine jumped out to an early 21-0 lead over the Trojans Friday, then took a 28-7 lead into halftime. A running clock in the second half seemed all but a foregone conclusion at that point.
It’s a scene that’s unfolded plenty of late, as the Trojans went 10-30 the past four years.
A funny thing happened on the way to the blowout, however. The Trojans battled back. Quarterback Hayden Kotwica did what Hayden Kotwica does — made plays with his arm and his legs — while running back Josh Browder emerged as an absolute force coming out of the backfield. Kotwica threw for three touchdown passes and ran for another in the second half, while Browder caught two touchdown passes and ran in one himself.
The defense, meanwhile — which gave up nearly 300 yards in total offense to Chieftain quarterback Dezmin Lyburtus in the first half alone — finally found its footing and got the stops it needed. Before Bellefontaine knew what was happening, the Trojans had tied the score at 28-28, then had taken a 35-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
In a metaphorical sense, this was a group of children becoming teenagers. Instead of throwing a tantrum, grabbing their ball and heading home when things didn’t go their way, the Trojans developed a little bit of insouciant swagger. Like most teenagers, they were supremely confident they could what seemed impossible; like most teenagers, they thought they were invincible.
Such hubris also often leads to pitfalls for teenagers, however. The Troy football team had not yet taken the next step into manhood.
With 1:32 left to play in the game, Lyburtus — who could very well be the most dynamic offensive player the Trojans see all season and may be the most entertaining player to come through Bellefontaine in a generation — led his team the length of the field for a touchdown, then connected on the two-point conversion, giving the Chieftains a 36-35 lead.
Again, it was hard not to dredge up memories of recent Trojan teams. Last season, Troy had chances to win games against Cincinnati Northwest, Xenia and Butler — only to let them slip through its fingers. In a young season, this was a moment of reckoning for a young Trojan team.
How would the Trojans respond this time, with a little more than a minute to play, on the road playing in front of a ravenous Bellefontaine crowd in full throat? Last year, it almost certainly would have been a heartbreaking loss.
Not this time. Not this year. Not this team.
It was at that moment the Trojans became full-grown men.
Kotwica calmly led the Trojans to midfield, then completed a short screen pass to Browder, who — on a night that seemed to serve as his personal coming-out party in which he announced his presence to the high school football world with great ferocity — rumbled 53 yards for what would prove to be the game-winning score.
Anyone can win when everything is going their way. It’s how one reacts when faced with the most adverse of circumstances that is the true measure of a team … and a man.
Friday night, we were witness to a Troy football team that went from boys to men.
And as is always the case when such things happen, it was quite a sight to see.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong