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.

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