What a game. This is the kind of game that you hate to see either team lose. One of them has to, though, and it's tough when the team that does lose is yours.
Northmont is always one of my favorite roadtrips in the former Greater Miami Valley Conference. I can't really explain why, but I just like going there. However, after we arrived, I spent the first few minutes wondering if I should have come. Coming from Toledo and stopping in Piqua to pick up Amy, we ended up arriving after the game had started. There were four minutes left in the first quarter, Troy was up 6-0, and the Trojans had the ball, third-and-goal from the nine-yard line. The first play I saw was Trojan quarterback A.J. Bush throwing an interception. When Troy's defense took the field, they were immediately penalized twice in a row for encroachment. Northmont then proceeded to drive down the field and score to take a 7-6 lead, and when Troy's offense got the ball the immediately committed a false start penalty.
I thought I had traveled back in time about five weeks, rediscovering the Troy team we saw earlier this season, a team that looked almost like it was trying to kill itself with penalties and turnovers. Needless to say, things got better from there, and this turned into a hell of a game.
First, a note about the officiating. I will never blame poor officiating for a loss, even in a close game, because a team making one more play can overcome a bad call. I will say, though, that in this game Troy made a couple of big plays that were negated by calls that were questionable at best and probably more accurately described as just flat-out wrong. Both were pass intereference calls on Troy's defense. On the first, Troy's corner David Hammond was beaten by the receiver, but the pass from Northmont quarterback Tyler Horner was errant and Hammond picked it off in the endzone. He was then flagged for interference, despite the fact that he was not close to the receiver and no contact was even possible at that point. Now, I can't say that no contact was made prior to the pass being in the air, but the flag wasn't thrown until the pick was made, and if the contact occurred before the pass was thrown, interference was the wrong call at any rate. Instead of a huge turnover, Northmont kept the ball and eventually did score. On the second interference call there definitely was contact, but I have no idea how the officials saw it as anything other than incidental. The Troy defense had forced Northmont into third-and-twenty-six, and got good pressure on the quarterback. Horner was scrambling around to avoid the sack, and his receivers were scrambling around as well, trying to stay open. As Horner threw the ball, the intended receiver had to turn upfield, and as he did so he ran into the defender and both players fell down. The ball then sailed so far past that there was no way the receiver would have been able to catch it even if he had been standing downfield all by himself. Yet the defender was flagged for interference, giving Northmont an automatic first down, and once again they drove down and scored on a drive that should have been over.
Even so, Troy had some chances they didn't take advantage of. As I mentioned, the first play I saw was a Trojan interception near the goal line. A score there would have been huge. Shortly before halftime Troy scored to go up by two touchdowns, and it looked like that was the lead we would take to the break, but Northmont returned the kickoff for a touchdown. In all, it just seemed like a game of missed opportunities, and it's really too bad that Troy couldn't pull this one out.
I'm not thrilled with Troy's defensive philosophy against Northmont's spread offense (or, really, Troy's pass defense philosophy in general). Our defensive backs line up at least five yards away from the receivers. This helps to ensure that the corners don't get burned on streaks, which is hard to argue with against Northmont's talented and speedy receivers. They generally didn't get too many yards after a catch. However, Northmont just ran a lot of stop routes, hooks, and outs, and with the defenders playing so far off, those were almost automatic completions. It allowed them to keep drives alive pretty easily.
That's not to take anything away from Northmont, because they're very good. Their offensive line did a good job of keeping Troy's defensive line (which is pretty good) from getting a whole lot of pressure on Horner. When pressure was there, Horner did a good job of scrambling to avoid it, probably the best job of any high school quarterback I've ever seen. His arm was strong and accurate, and his receivers did a good job of catching the ball. Northmont's defense did give up 228 rushing yards to Cody Boyd, but they held him in check in the second half when the game was on the line.
Troy deserves a lot of credit too, though. They hurt themselves on a couple of occasions, but they played tough to the very end against a good team. They made several big plays when they really needed them. It would have been nice if they could have made one or two more, but in general they looked pretty good. It was good to see quarterback A.J. Bush just drop back to pass on a few plays, and he threw the ball well on those plays. Most of Troy's pass plays feature a bootleg and Bush throwing on the run, and sometimes that doesn't work out so well. When he drops straight back and sets his feet, though, he's got a good arm. Troy ran one play-action pass tonight, something I've never seen them do before, and it resulted in a touchdown to Shane Carter. With Troy's run-heavy offense, I would think play-action would be pretty effective on a regular basis.
This was a tough one to lose, and it may have cost Troy a chance at making the state playoffs. I don't think it's totally out of the question for them to still make it, but it will depend a lot on how the rest of the season plays out. Next week the Trojans play at Kettering Fairmont.