Monday, January 02, 2017

2017, Not a Moment Too Soon

So, 2016. That sure was a thing that happened, wasn't it, friends and neighbors?

Last year was weird. I write a blog and do some other social media stuff for the company I work for, which sells entertainment media (movies, CDs, audiobooks), so I'm pretty in tune with pop culture news, including celebrity deaths. Starting off the year with the loss of David Bowie seemed only like a tragedy at the time, when in fact, looking back, it was more like a signal for what was to come.

Nevertheless, it was only about the last 1/3 of the year that things got really surreal. It started at the very beginning of September, when Brandi and I moved into a new apartment. That was fine in itself, but it kicked off a really busy stretch of time that kind of threw me into a fog that I still haven't completely recovered from. The moving process took most of a week, during which I also had to travel for work; immediately thereafter I had a two-week stretch of jury service, which also saw me working well into the evenings to make up for the time I missed during the day.

Then there was the election, in which the campaign was infuriating and the result was dumbfounding. I have a lot of thoughts, but I honestly can't decide if writing them all will make me feel better or worse, so for now here's the Cliffs Notes version. Donald Trump was a joke in the '80s; I understood that then, although I wasn't even a teenager yet. Giving him the keys to the country now, thirty years later, after was endorsed by the KKK and almost literally no one else, is an event of such staggering stupidity that I still can't wrap my mind around it. The fact that a stone-dumb, humorless, thin-skinned sexual predator will take over the office following a thoughtful, measured, successful leader like President Obama is a sick joke of cosmic proportions.

So yeah, that has thrown me into kind of a tailspin the past couple of months, and if that makes me a precious little snowflake, well, so be it. Brandi and I even went on vacation, a few days in Florida right after Thanksgiving, and while that was undeniably nice, it didn't help to get my mind right as much as I had hoped. Then followed a bunch of work travel and the holidays....

...and just when I was starting to think we were going to escape 2016 with no further damage done, well, then Carrie Fisher died. I grew up a Star Wars fan above pretty much anything else, so Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia has been a constant in my life for all 39.5 years I've been around. That one hurt.

Brandi and I stayed home on New Year's Eve and watched the ball drop from the comfort of our own couch after a full day of watching bowl games on TV, eating chips with salsa and guacamole. Sometimes we just have to take care of ourselves, take a deep breath and just shut out all the noise and surround ourselves with people and things we love. If we can do that when necessary, and fight for things we believe in when we need to, then we can hope that the coming year will be less dark and weird, at least, than the one we just buried.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Miamisburg 28 Troy 21

Alas. All good things must come to an end, and this season of Troy football was more than good; it was phenomenal.

Just like the first time these two teams met up this season, this was a great high school football game between two really good teams. It was a shame (from my side of the field, at least) that Troy came up short both times, but it doesn't change the fact that both games were a pleasure to watch.

I won't go so far as to say this was a game that Troy should have won, but it was one they could have won. Both teams made some mistakes. If the Trojans could have cut theirs back, or taken better advantage of the ones the Vikings made, the outcome may have been different. That last is what the game came down to, more or less. With the score tied at 21 more than halfway through the fourth quarter, Troy recovered a Miamisburg fumble in their own territory and took it down to the 5 yard line. With four shots to make those five yards, Troy couldn't break through the Vikings' tough defense and get the score.

Really, if I had to boil the story of the game down to one element, it would be Miamisburg's defense. They were really tough tonight. The first time these two teams played, Troy gained over 400 yards of offense, evenly split between rushing and passing. Tonight, they could muster only 181 yards, just 82 of them on the ground. As good as he's been all year, tailback Josh Browder just couldn't find a whole lot of room to work tonight.

Of course, I can't say that without also giving major props to Troy's defense, which put in another incredible effort. Miamisburg's most well-known strength is its offensive line, anchored as it is by Josh Myers, by most accounts the top high school lineman in the country, and a Buckeye-in-waiting. Nonetheless, Troy's defense made them work for everything they got, and was able to keep their running game in check for much of the night.

So the Trojans finish the season at 10-2, GWOC North champions and regional semifinalists, in coach Matt Burgbacher's second year, just one year removed from being 2-8. The turnaround has been nothing less than shocking to me. I expected improvement this year, but I didn't see anything like this coming. Looking at the schedule before the season started, I thought 6-4 would be a pretty damned good season. The run they've made has been an incredibly pleasant surprise in a year that has been filled with a number of unpleasant ones. With a number of key players graduating and several others returning, I have no idea what to expect from them next year, but I'm already excited to find out. The future looks undeniably bright for Trojan football.

A few notes:

* After last week's game, in which Anderson ran approximately one million offensive plays, Miamisburg's more traditional, deliberate pace was a welcome sight. In theory, I like the uptempo offensive philosophy, but man, does it make for a long, slow game.

* I don't really miss Northmont in the league, but I do miss visiting their stadium, which I've always liked. I've been there several times, but this was my first time sitting on the home side. I'm still a little surprised that this game wasn't held at Welcome Stadium, but Northmont was a good setting.

* I've been following Troy football since 1991, and the Trojans have had some great teams in that time, including a poll champion (1996). Still, I've never seen them win more than one playoff game in a season. There was a stretch last night when I felt pretty good that streak was about to end. Although it didn't, I'm hopeful that the day will come.

* If ever the day comes when I finally decide to stop following the Trojans, it likely won't be because of logistical difficulties (traffic) or because the football isn't good. No, if ever I stop following them, it'll most likely be because I can no longer tolerate the behavior of people in crowds. The Miamisburg crowd booed the Troy band as they were lining up to take the field; the Troy fans who commented on this in incredulity, not five minutes later, booed Miamisburg's team as they came out. Who boos high school kids? Let the record show that I'm against it, even when it's Piqua. I'm also amazed by people who, even at a playoff game for a conference champion that wasn't expected to attain either of those achievements, will loudly yell things like "stupid" and "dum-dum" at their team's coach when they disagree with his decisions. And when such proclamations then result in an actual shouting match between a couple of fans sitting behind me, all I can do is roll my eyes and be glad it didn't devolve into an actual altercation.

Seriously. What is wrong with people?

Friday, November 04, 2016

Troy 41 Anderson 35

Wow. Talk about "survive and advance"; this game was pretty much a textbook example.

Considering that Troy went 2-8 last year and turned that around to a 9-1 regular season this year, it's hard to quibble with much that they've done. Still, one thing that has bothered me about this team all year long--I don't think I've noted it, although I should have--is that they haven't shown an ability to step on an opposing team's throat and really close out a game, even with a big lead. For example, they forced a running clock three times this season (Fairborn, Butler, and Sidney), but only finished one of those games with a running clock, because they didn't keep expanding their lead and couldn't keep the other team from forcing the margin back under 30 points. Also, against Piqua, they came out on fire and scored three touchdowns in the first five minutes of the third quarter to push the score to 37-14, and although the defense kept Piqua from scoring, the Trojans didn't score again either.

Now, I realize on one hand that in lopsided games you need and want to pull the starters, and that there's no real need to pile on and beat teams by 30, 40, 50 points. But even when the starters have still been in, big leads have seen the Trojans get sloppy--they can't run the ball to keep the clock moving, they turn the ball over, etc. That didn't hurt them throughout the course of the regular season, but now it's the playoffs, and it almost ended their season tonight.

It's funny. Earlier in the week I read on a message board someone's opinion that the closest comparison to Anderson on Troy's schedule was Bellefontaine, and then this game almost played out like the Bellefontaine game in reverse. It looked early on like the Trojans were going to absolutely roll. The defense was giving up some yards to Anderson but getting stops when they needed them, and the offense was absolutely gouging Anderson's defense and scoring more or less at will. I mean, Troy's first offensive play from scrimmage resulted in a 78-yard TD run from Josh Browder, who went over 100 yards within his first three carries on the night. Little did they know, though, that they were falling into Anderson's trap.

That may sound silly, but it's really true, more or less. I'm sure they would have preferred to avoid giving up so many points, but giving them up quickly worked in their favor. Anderson's offensive philosophy is uptempo to the max, snapping the ball pretty much as soon as it's set. They want to run a lot of plays and wear a defense out. Because Troy's offense wasn't keeping the ball for very long, the defense was on the field a lot. As the game wore on, they were visibly wearing out. They actually played fairly well, but you'd never know it to look at the stats. Actually, if you only looked at the stats, you'd think Anderson had won, and probably handily.

The second half of this game was nuts, and it was a combination of Anderson's philosophy and Troy's sloppiness with a lead that created it. When Troy scored the first TD of the quarter (Browder's fifth on the night), it made the score 41-14 in their favor, just three points away from forcing the running clock rule, something the Trojan fans were very much aware of and looking forward to. The fast-paced offense makes for a very long game, and a lot of people were ready to wrap it up and call it a night. But instead, that's when things got crazy. More concerned with running the clock than attacking for points, the Trojan offense was suddenly ineffective. Punts...turnovers...a lost onside kick...Troy's D was on the field for the majority of the second half (especially the fourth quarter), and Anderson just kept attacking. It was 41-14...then 41-22...then 41-28. After Anderson scored to make it 41-35, Troy moved the ball a little bit, but then QB Hayden Kotwica threw up a desperation pass toward the endzone on third down, and Anderson intercepted it on the 2-yard line.

In most games, with the opponent needing a 98-yard drive with just 3:42 left, you'd have to feel pretty good, but at this point, everyone on the Troy side was holding their breath. Troy's defense was just whipped, and with Anderson's offensive pace, the clock was not an issue. They were able to drive down inside Troy's red zone and appeared to score the tying touchdown with 1:10 left. I was actually relieved at that point, because it gave the Trojans a little bit of time to try to answer. However, the TD run was called back due to holding, and Troy's D had another "opportunity" to go to work. They stretched it out to 4th and 12 on about the 15, and then the 4th down pass sailed out the back of the endzone.


There was a flag for pass interference.

It was a terrible call; the ball was well out of bounds and the receiver in the area had zero chance of catching it. Nevertheless, the call stood. But! One thing I did not know, even after going to games for 25 years now, is that pass interference in high school is not an automatic first down. Anderson did gain a few yards and another chance, but since half the distance to the goal line was not the twelve yards they needed, at least it was just one more chance instead of a fresh set of downs. They ran a quarterback draw. Troy's defense, with their backs against the wall, dug down deep and dragged him down a yard short of the first down with 20 seconds left.

Ballgame. For real, this time.

I have to say, I really admire the way Anderson plays. That offense undoubtedly makes for very long games (total running time for this one was right at three hours, for 48 minutes of gameplay), but it's an absolute nightmare for high school defenses, especially for any team with players going both ways. Their quarterback, Jay Volpenhein, aside from having a really cool name, was really impressive, making a lot of good passes, escaping pressure, running when he needed to. He's just a junior, so if they have any talent coming back around him, they should be in good shape next year.

That tense fourth quarter aside, the Trojans did manage to eke this one out, putting them at 10-1 on the year. It's their first 10-win season since 2000, which was also the last time they hosted a playoff game, and the last time they won a playoff game. Their opponent in that playoff game sixteen years ago was the Miamisburg Vikings, and they will also be Troy's opponent next week in the second round. Miamisburg, of course, accounted for Troy's lone loss this season, scoring a TD with 8 seconds left to win 21-17 back in Week 5. With the games now moving to neutral sites, I have to imagine they'll be paired up at Welcome Stadium in Dayton, but we'll find out for sure until Sunday afternoon.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Troy 37 Piqua 14

This one was a long time coming. Losing to Piqua four straight times makes each year feel like an eternity, especially when you realize that this is the first time Troy has beaten them since Steve Nolan was the head coach, and that we're on our second coach since then.

There was a great buildup to this game, for the first time in a while. It's been a rare season lately when Troy and Piqua were both good at the same time. To come into this game with the league title on the line felt like the old GMVC days. Which is appropriate, since Troy hadn't won an outright league title since the old GMVC days--1998, in fact, which was Trojan legends Ryan Brewer and Kris Dielman's senior season. (And, on a sidenote, if you had told me in 1998 that Troy wouldn't have another league title to itself until 2016, I would have thought you were absolutely insane...especially if you had also told me that Trotwood would be the dominant team in the meantime.) But the luster was back on this year for sure, as an announced crowd of 9,700+ piled into Piqua's Alexander Stadium on a beautiful night to watch this one unfold.

Mostly what I was worried about going into this one was turnovers, as Troy had gotten a little sloppy with the ball in their past couple of matchups, although it didn't end up hurting them in the end. The Trojans did end up turning the ball over a couple of times late in the game, but they actually came out ahead in the turnover game. They recovered a Piqua fumble on the opening kickoff and turned it into three points, which they then turned into a 10-0 lead that they would never lose. Piqua was able to run the ball pretty much at will in the first half (tailback Ben Schmiesing was an impressive runner), but the Trojans held on for a 16-14 halftime advantage.

Troy received the kickoff to open the second half, and they came out on fire and blew Piqua's doors off. They scored three touchdowns in the third quarter's first five minutes, and that was your ballgame, especially as the defense tightened up and shut Piqua out for the entire half. The way they ended up dominating their rivals was quite satisfying.

So! The series with Piqua now stands at 63-63-6 after 132 meetings. Troy has won the GWOC North championship and goes into the playoffs as the #1 seed in their region with a 9-1 record. That earns them the right to host their first-round game, which will be against the #8 seed, Cincinnati Anderson (7-3). They will bring with them a potent quick-strike offense and a porous defense, so it'll be something the Trojans haven't really seen yet this year. And! The game will kick off at 7:30, rather than the customary 7:00, so that's a bright spot for me.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Troy 35 Sidney 6

This win probably should have felt more satisfying than it actually did. To explain why, let's rewind to last year at this time. When Troy played at Sidney in 2015, the Trojans were coming off a stunning upset of the heavily favored, state-ranked Rams of Trotwood-Madison the week before. I didn't get to attend the game at Trotwood, so I was fired up when I got to Sidney, hoping the Trojans had learned how to put everything together and play some good, competitive football. Instead, I saw a good Sidney team take them apart to the tune of a 52-28 defeat. Given all that, you'd think that seeing them beat the Yellowjackets handily would feel like a little bit of payback, but it really didn't.

Primarily I'd say that's because Sidney has been decimated by injuries this year and is a mere shadow of last year's team. But it's also because Troy didn't play very well, at least on the offensive side of the ball. I could easily be mistaken about this, but it seemed like they were trying to work some different players into the mix early on, possibly because it was Senior Night, and things just never quite clicked. They had five turnovers (3 fumbles lost, 2 interceptions thrown), including a scoop-and-score on a bad snap in the game's waning moments that accounted for Sidney's only points.

But hey, they played well enough to turn this one lopsided by the time it was over, even if it took longer than maybe it should have for them to get there. Part of that was because the offense was persistent and kept playing hard even on an off night, and part of it was because the defense, on the other hand, played lights-out. Sidney's tailback, Isaiah Bowser, is one of the top backs in the conference, and came into the game with nearly 1,300 yards on the season. Troy held him to 51 yards on 26 carries, while at the same time forcing quarterback Dillon King into a 6 for 19 passing night, with four interceptions. Granted, those are the two positions where Sidney was hit hardest by injury, but Troy wasn't facing complete stiffs back there; they just made it look that way. So, yeah. A defensive performance like that can easily make up for an occasional off night for the offense.

There was one play that I wanted to make particular note of. On one of Troy's extra point attempts, the snap went high, and holder Jacob Adams had to go way up high to field it. Instead of trying to get back down into his crouch, he just bent over at the waist and put the ball down, where Jacob Anderson was able to kick it through. It's the second time this season I've seen him do it, the other (I think) being the Tipp game. It's just an impressive, heady play, and the kid's only a sophomore. So, props to him. Troy's kicking game overall has been a real strength for them this season, even though it kind of flies under the radar.

Next week the Trojans, now 7-1, travel to Greenville to take on the 3-5 Green Wave. I, alas, will not be traveling with them. There's one more regular season game on the schedule after that one, and you can rest assured that I'll certainly be attending my 26th consecutive Troy-Piqua game (dating back to 1992) on October 28. That game is shaping up to be for all the marbles in the GWOC North, just like the old days.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Troy 35 Tippecanoe 7

Welcome to the GWOC, boys.

This is Tipp's first year in the conference, coming over from the Central Buckeye Conference, upon which they had made a habit of feasting. In the past ten years, their lowest win total was 8. With all due respect to teams like Bellefontaine (who Troy played a hell of a game against earlier this year) and Springfield Shawnee (who Troy played in 2012 and 2013), the teams in the GWOC's North Division are, week in and week out, a little more competitive.

The main difference in the two leagues is the size of the schools. Troy has quite a bit larger student body than Tipp does, and hence more depth on the sidelines, and that really showed tonight. Troy looked like the better team in the first half, but Tipp hung in there, trailing only 14-7 at the break. In the second half, though, Tipp just couldn't keep up. The Trojans wore them down and pulled away with three unanswered scores in the second half.

This is a fun game, and I'm glad Tipp is in the conference now so it'll happen on a yearly basis. This was the first time the teams have played since 1985, which was before I was paying attention (I was eight). The two towns basically bleed into one another, so it's a natural rivalry. Troy got the best of it this year (and historically: the all-time record now stands at 21-2-2), but Tipp is a solid program, and I have no doubt that they'll have something to say about how the series goes forward.

With all that said, I was surprised by the (relatively) small size of the Tipp City crowd (which you can see in the second photo above). I would have thought that they would have had 31 years' worth of anticipation to see their guys have a chance to knock off the big boy on the block. Don't get me wrong; they brought a decent crowd (Troy's side looked, to me, to be filled in but not packed), but not what I expected. Maybe the threat of rain kept some people away. If so, too bad for them: it was an absolutely perfect night for a football game.

At any rate, now that the Red Devils have been duly introduced to their new conference, the Trojans, now 5-1/1-0, will travel next week to face a longtime conference foe, the Aviators of Vandalia Butler (4-2/1-0). I, alas, will not be there. My work schedule has me on the road next Friday. At the moment, the plan is to take in a game instead at my wife's alma mater, as the 5-1 Clyde Fliers host the 6-0 Edison Chargers. I'll be back on the Trojan beat the following week, when they return to Troy Memorial Stadium to take on the Sidney Yellowjackets.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Miamisburg 21 Troy 17

There are times--quite a few of them--when I wish I had access to some sort of wormhole or device that would let me go back in time and change whatever life decisions I would need to in order to be coaching high school football today. And then there are nights like this, when I watch my beloved Troy Trojans lose in a heartbreaking and controversial fashion, and then moments later I see Coach Burgbacher on the field being interviewed about the game, and I know he has to put on a positive face and say all the right things. After a game like this, I don't know if I could do it. Not five minutes after the final whistle, at least.

The controversy (those on the Troy side of the field would call it that, at least) came on two separate plays on the game's final drive. When the Trojans kicked a field goal to take a 17-14 lead with around two minutes left in the game, Miamisburg was out of timeouts. They needed big plays, and they needed them fast. They were making the plays they needed, but the clock kept rolling, and it looked like the Troy defense--stalwart all night--was going to hold them one last time. Then, on a tackle near midfield, a Troy defender was flagged for an illegal hit. Now, it looked like a perfectly fine hit to me, but it happened on the opposite side of the field, so it's totally possible that I didn't see it clearly. However, I will say that the game was a little chippy all night, with at least two occasions of Trojans being tackled by the head and their helmets being torn off without penalties being called. If you're going to let plays like that go, then I'd say that inside of a minute left in a tight game is not the time to start calling personal fouls. Then, on a play shortly thereafter (it may have been the next one), the Viking QB threw a pass toward the sideline, but Troy's defense managed the drag the defender down in bounds with fifteen seconds left. The official signaled for the clock to keep running, but then, inexplicably, signaled for it to stop. By the time another official signaled that it should indeed be running, Miamisburg's offense was already back at the line of scrimmage, where they clocked the ball to set themselves up for their scoring pass.

Now, credit to the Vikings, because their kids came up big and made the plays when they needed them. Maybe they still get into the endzone without those two plays going the way they did. Who knows? What I do know is that this was a hell of a high school football game for 47 minutes, but that last minute left a sour taste in my mouth as I left the stadium.

Now! Having made the long(ish) drive back to Columbus and using that time to mull over the entirety of the game, there were, overall, more positives than negatives. Miamisburg is a really good team. They've blown Troy out the past couple of seasons, and this year the Trojans were right there with them. The Vikings are known primarily for their offensive line, which has one member committed to Ohio State and considered the best in the nation, and another to the University of Cincinnati. And yet Troy's D really did a nice job against them. And last but not least, Troy's home stands were as full as I've seen them in a long, long time. It was fun to be part of a big home crowd again.

And really, it's hard to be disappointed for long. At the halfway point of the seasons, the Trojans find themselves at 4-1, after finishing last year 2-8. It's already been a fun year, and it's only half over (or maybe less--stay tuned). Now it's time for conference play, and it starts off with what should be a pretty cool matchup. The Tippecanoe Red Devils, also 4-1, invade Troy Memorial Stadium next Friday, the first time the two teams have played since 1985, which was before even I was paying attention (I was in third grade). Tipp is always solid, and I'm glad the Trojans have made it back to that point as well. I'm looking forward to this one.