By David Fong
TROY — Matt Burgbacher has seen far to many games won and lost on special teams not to put the time and effort in on those units for his Troy football team.
“You know, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a team lose by one point this season and then, when I look at the boxscore, I see it’s because they missed an extra point,” Burgbacher said. “A lot of times, special teams wins or loses games for you. That’s why we put in as much — if not more time — than anyone on special teams.”
It certainly showed for the Trojans in last week’s 35-7 win over Tippecanoe, which Burgbacher said was one of his team’s best efforts all season on special teams. Against the Red Devils, special teams highlights where seemingly everywhere:
• Trojan kicker Jake Anderson went 5-for-5 on extra point attempts. Holder Jake Anderson made a key play on one of those extra points, standing almost straight up to pull down an errant snap, then get it in place for Anderson to boot the extra point.
• Troy had a pair of kickoff returns, averaging 23.0 yards per return, while holding Tippecanoe to just 12.5 yards per return on its six kickoff returns.
• Trojan punt returner Hayden Jackson returned three punts for 73 yards — a whopping 24.3 yards per return. His 39 yards return helped set up a Trojan touchdown.
• Troy didn’t have to use punter Hayden Kotwica once the entire night, a product of its efficient offense.
“That was the best we’ve played on special teams all year,” Burgbacher said. “That was the best we’ve covered kickoffs all year. I gave out a lot of helmet stickers for kids making tackles inside the 20 on kickoffs.”
It was a breakout night for Jackson on punt returns, who won the job because of his ability to field the ball on punts, but put on a show returning them against Tippecanoe.
“Returning punts is one of the hardest things to do,” Burgbacher said. “You’ve got 10 guys playing down the field at you. He’s a fearless kid. When he’s back there, you can see him gauge where the ball is going to be, but then once he figures that out, you can see his eyes glance down the field, looking for a place to run the ball.
“The best thing about Hayden, though, is his ability to field the ball. If he fair caught every punt for the rest of the season, I’d be OK with that. He doesn’t let the ball roll and give up 10 or 15 yards of field position. And I’ll tell you what, those 10 or 15 yards are huge in high school football. But his ability to return the ball when he gets a chance is just one more added weapon for us.”
Browder gets the TD
From his days riding the bus to games alongside his father Charlie — now Troy’s defensive coordinator — at Portsmouth Notre Dame High School, Matt Burgbacher has been deeply immersed in the sport of football for more than 30 years.
Every now and then, though, he still sees something new … like last week, for instance.
On the Trojans’ second touchdown of the game — a 1-yard run — both Kotwica, Troy’s quarterback, and Josh Browder, Troy’s running back, seemed to cross the goalline while both carrying the ball at the same time. On the play, an inside zone run, Kotwica places the ball into Browder’s hands, then has the option of pulling it out and running it himself, or letting Browder carry the ball.
Things didn’t go quite as planned and ultimately, both ended up carrying the ball into the end zone together. Ultimately, Browder was officially given credit for the touchdown in the final statistics.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life,” Burgbacher said. “We gave the touchdown to Browder, because we had to give it to someone. You can’t give them each half a touchdown. Ultimately, they were both just happy we scored — they didn’t care who got the credit.
“On that play, you can bounce it, you can bang it or you can bend it back. Josh made the right read. Hayden made the right read. That’s the nice thing — our offensive line did such a nice job blocking that all the options were there. Our line opened up a hole big enough for two guys to run through.”
Not only is Troy’s varsity team riding high at 5-1, but the Trojans are winning at every level throughout the high school. Troy’s junior varsity team is 3-1, while the freshman team is 5-0.
“Our JV team has had two games canceled, but they are playing well,” Burgbacher said. “They lost a tough 24-12 game to Miamisburg, but they just beat Tipp 21-20 in a a really good game. Our freshman team is 5-0 and has been beating up on almost everyone. They beat Miamisburg 13-0, but other than that, they’ve been beating everyone by 30, 40 or 50 points. They beat Northwest 69-0.”
Burgbacher said it’s good to see Troy winning games at all three levels, not just on varsity.
“I think it’s a very good thing,” he said. “It’s important to have those younger kids winning, because eventually it’s going to be their turn to be playing on Friday nights. Our older guys go to the freshman games, because they want to know how the future of the program is doing. I think they all feed off of one another.”
A pair of Trojans are nearing some important season and career milestones, while Troy’s team already has assured itself it won’t be a negative historical footnote.
Kotwica has thrown for 841 yards this season, meaning he needs just 159 to reach the 1,000-yard mark this season. While it’s unlikely he’ll reach the school-record 2,021 yards he threw for last season, he’ll become just the third quarterback in school history — joining Tommy Myers and Cody May — to throw for 1,000 or more yards in consecutive seasons.
He’s already the second-leading passer in school history with 3,637 career passing yards. He needs 363 the remainder of the season to throw for 4,000 yards in his career. The school record for passing yards in a career is held by Myers, who threw for 5,060 from 1958-60.
Browder has 90 carries for 748 yards this season. He needs 252 in Troy’s final four games to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season. If he can get there, he’ll be Troy’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Miles Hibbler in 2013 and only the second to reach the mark since Matt Allen did so in 2008.
Finally, since Troy began playing football in 1897, the Trojans have had three losing seasons in a row on six times and have never had four losing seasons in a row. Troy entered this year on the heels of three losing seasons in a row, but having already logged five wins so far this year, the worst Troy can finish is 5-5, meaning Troy will again avoid having a fourth losing season in a row.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong