By David Fong
TROY — In the midst of a five-game losing streak, there’s nothing that would serve the Troy football team better in terms of momentum and confidence than a nice, fat cupcake on the schedule.
Instead, Troy (1-5, 0-1 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division) get Trotwood-Madison (5-1, 0-1 in the GWOC North) — former state champion, perennial playoff participant and bullies of the GWOC North Division for much of the past decade.
“There’s not let up in our schedule,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “When you look at our schedule, top to bottom, there’s not what I would consider an easy game anywhere on there.”
The Rams have won every GWOC North title since 2008 — and done so in impressive fashion. Trotwood has won 34 games in a row against division opponents, with its last loss within the division coming against Northmont (38-8) — a team no longer even in the division anymore — on Oct. 19, 2007.
When Troy shows up at Trotwood Friday, it will mark day No. 2,911 since the Rams lost a game within the division.
The Rams also have made numerous deep playoff runs during that time frame, making the playoffs eight out of the past nine years, reaching the state semifinals five times, the state title game three times and winning a Division II state title in 2011.
“When I watch film, I haven’t seen any fall off with these guys,” Burgbacher said of the Rams. “To me, they look as good as they ever have. They are still a great football team.”
Offensively, the Rams are relatively predictable — yet also nearly unstoppable — this season. With the loss of future Michigan State quarterback Messiah DeWeaver, who now plays quarterback at Wayne, the Rams have gone to a ground-based attack on that side of the ball.
Leading the way for the Rams is sophomore Raveion Hargrove, who leads the GWOC in rushing with 108 carries for 1,161 yards — nearly 200 yards per game — and 14 touchdowns. This comes despite seeing limited duty in last week’s blowout win over Sidney. Senior running back Rondric Bogan is averaging nearly 100 rushing yards per game with 71 carries for 572 yards and six touchdowns.
“Offensively, they are a power football team,” Burgbacher said. “The line up in the I-formation with double tight ends and will try to run it down your throats. They are very good at what they do. Their running backs aren’t very big — but their offensive linemen are. They are a typical Trotwood offensive line — they are big and strong and come off the line hard. Their running backs kind of hide behind them a little bit and when that hole opens — boom! — they bust through there.”
The Rams haven’t totally abandoned the passing game, either. Sophomore quarterback Markell Stephens-Peppers has completed 48 of 86 passes for 667 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. Caleb Johnson leads Trotwood’s receivers with 21 catches for 231 yards and four touchdowns, while Roland Walder has 10 catches for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
“They don’t throw the ball as much as when DeWeaver was there, but they will still throw,” Burgbacher said. “They like to suck you in with the run game, but then they still have great threats on the outside they are capable of getting the ball to.”
While the Rams make no bones about what they plan on doing offensively, they are considerably tougher to read on defense.
“Defensively, they will line up in three different formations,” Burgbacher said. “If one of the formations is working, they’ll stick with that. If a team is moving a ball, they’ll switch to a different formation. It makes them really tough to read. All week during practice, we’ve been telling our scout team, ‘Just line up and come after us. We don’t want to know what you are doing.’ It makes it hard to prepare for them.
“They’ve got the athletes and the speed to be able to pull that off. They’ve got 10 very good athletes on defense and one big run stopper in the middle. The program says he is 6-foot-1 and weighs 387 pounds — and when we look at him on film, he definitely looks like he weighs every bit of 387 pounds.”
As had been the case for much of the past decade, Trotwood’s roster is loaded with future Division I college football players. Senior linebacker Walder already has committed to the University of Kentucky. He’s one of several Rams receiving looks from Division I programs, according to the recruiting website rivals.com.
All that being said, however, Burgbacher said he expects his team to give its best effort Friday.
“We are going down there with the intention of playing to win the game,” he said. “We aren’t going down there to lay down. We are going to come out with our guns blazing, give our best effort and see what happens.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong