The game took place on Friday. Today is Tuesday. It's taken this long for me to get to a point where I could write about the game sensibly, without going into a full-fledged rant that would have been of no use or interest to anyone except me.
I can't honestly say that Fairborn deserved to win this game. However, I can honestly say that Troy deserved to win it even less. Therefore, as much as the final result grates on me due to the way the game ended, I have to admit that it was probably fitting for things to turn out the way they did.
The Trojans scored a go-ahead touchdown with 37 seconds left to play in the game. After a short kickoff, the Trojans forced Fairborn into a 4th-and-5 from the 50-yard line. On that play, Fairborn's quarterback launched a bomb into the endzone, which his receiver dived and caught. There were still a few seconds left on the clock, but that was pretty much the game. It's always tough to lose a game in the waning seconds, so it would have been bad enough if that had been the whole story, but it wasn't.
On Fairborn's winning touchdown play, the quarterback was in the backfield for several seconds, loading up to throw the long bomb and waiting for his receiver to get downfield. During that time, one of Troy's defensive linemen (I was too caught up in the moment to see who it was) bulled past his blocker and was momentarily free to chase down the quarterback. If he had remained free, the game likely would have swung the other direction--either the QB would have been sacked or, at the very least, he would have had to scramble, making the pass that much tougher to complete. However, as the defender came free, his blocker just latched onto him. He was committing a bigger-than-life holding penalty, way out in the open where seemingly everyone could see it. No flag. There was no question he was holding, either--he had two hands full of jersey, and the defender was trying in vain to run in a completely different direction. If the penalty had been called, the play would have been negated; the ball would have been moved ten yards back, making it 4th-and-15; and Troy's defense would have had another chance to keep them out of the endzone.
I don't totally buy into the theory that officiating is never the reason for a win or a loss, but I can't argue that Troy should not have been in this situation in the first place. All season, the Trojans have been employing squib, pooch, and onside kickoffs in order to deny opposing teams the opportunity for long kickoff returns. Plenty of people in the stands have complained about it at each game, but it hadn't hurt the Trojans until this game, and in a couple of instances it actually worked in Troy's favor as they were able to recover the ball. However, in this particular instance (up by 3 with only 37 seconds remaining in the game), I think it was time to finally kick the ball deep. Even if they did get a long return out of it, scoring or giving them good field position, at least they would have earned it. As it was, the short kickoff let them start at the 45 without fighting for it or taking any time off the clock. I just don't think that's good strategy.
The disappointing thing is that it looked early like Troy was going to take this game in a cakewalk. They got a nice return on the opening kickoff, giving them good field position, and then scored on the first play from scrimmage as Corey Brown burst up the middle and into the endzone. After the ensuing kickoff, the defense forced Fairborn into a three-and-out, so it looked good. Then Troy's offense stalled, and then Fairborn's offense got into gear, and the game was on. And the Trojans still could have taken control of the game, but they made too many mistakes at crucial times--penalties that killed their drives or extended Fairborn's, missed tackles, etc.
In saying all of this, I don't want to take too much away from Fairborn. While I do think Troy is a better team in general, Fairborn was definitely the better team on Friday night. They've got some very talented players, and they'll win their share of games this season. I don't mind losing to them; I just wish it wasn't the result of such a poor non-call on an obvious penalty on the deciding play.
At any rate, this loss really hurts Troy's playoff chances this year. It'll be interesting to see how they rebound with several more tough games coming up before the season ends, including three consecutive road games starting this week. Hopefully they'll rise to the challenge and play good football from here on out. Their next chance comes this Friday when they travel to take on Springfield North.
Short, and Not So Sweet