Friday, November 16, 2018

A Season of Discontent

I thought about going to a high school football game tonight. There are a couple of tempting big-school matchups happening locally--Olentangy Liberty vs. Dublin Coffman (in New Albany) and Pickerington Central vs. Hilliard Davidson (in Gahanna)--and probably some small-school action as well. I do this pretty much every year, actually. I always think, "Oh, I should go to a playoff game this Friday." And then Friday rolls around and the weather isn't perfect, and nine bucks seems a little steep for a ticket to a game that doesn't feature my team (not to mention parking fees), and staying home just seems like a better idea. And so that's what I do, and that's what I'm doing tonight.

Now, if my beloved Troy Trojans were playing tonight, I would have tried to go, cold and cost be damned. Alas, they were eliminated last week, losing their second-round playoff game to Cincinnati Anderson (with their racist nickname redacted here forevermore) last week, 38-35. I didn't go to that game, and because I'm not a Spectrum video subscriber (although I do have Internet service through them), it wasn't available for me to watch. I did get to listen to the first half, but we had plans with friends, and so I was only able to follow the second half via Twitter (many thanks, @thefong).

The Trojans were up 28-17 at the half of that game. While I didn't get to see or even listen to the second half...that's a game you'd think they should have been able to find a way to win. Only being able to manage seven points in the second half is disappointing for a team with a once-in-a-generation running back and a serviceable passing game. By the same token, the defense had only given up more than 19 points once all season (31, in their other loss, to Miamisburg in week 5). All credit to Anderson for doing everything they needed to do to pull it out, but Troy should have been able to keep it from slipping away.

Of course, I'm always disappointed when the Troy football season comes to an end, no matter the circumstances. I have to admit, though, that this year I was really hoping they would advance to the third round. I started paying attention to Troy football when I was a freshman at THS in 1991. In those 28 seasons, the Trojans have advanced to the playoffs 11 times, if my recollection is correct. In all that time, I've never seen them advance past the second round. In the '90s, when only four teams per region made the playoffs, the second round was the regional finals; since then, with eight teams per region, the second round is the regional semifinals. Either way, in my experience, the second round is where the Trojans go to die. I really thought and hoped that this year might be different, but alas.

So the season is over--my first season experimenting with being a fan almost exclusively from afar. I was happy to maintain my streak of Troy-Piqua games attended (now at 28, going back to 1992), but that was the only time I got to see them play in person. I am very grateful to the THS mass communications program for their live video stream that allowed me to watch the home games from the comfort of my couch in Columbus (although I do regret not making it to at least one home game). I had every intention, when the season began, of attending at least a handful of local games, but much like the playoff situation tonight, if the Trojans aren't involved, I have a hard time getting motivated to go. I did attend one game at Thomas Worthington High School while the weather was nice, but that was it.

All in all, taking a season off from Trojan football has been...not great. Sure, I was able to watch several of the games, and I'm ecstatic that I have that option, but it can't take the place of being there. For the past several weeks I've felt cranky and out-of-sorts, and I really do think that skipping the games has been a big part of that. It's not just about the games for me. The stadium (taking "stadium" as a collective, and not just Troy Memorial Stadium specifically) is my happy place, and going to the game each week is a way of becoming centered, of setting aside a few hours for myself and kind of shutting out everything else that's going on.

And yet the facts remain that I live in Columbus, that I work until 5:00 pm, that games kick off at 7:00 pm, and that traversing that distance in that time (and at that time) is a difficult, sometimes infuriating experience that often acts as a counter to that positive headspace I'm trying to create for myself by attending the games in the first place. It's a conundrum. The solution I'm leaning toward for next year is to pick a handful of games that I want to attend (the number I'm thinking of is three, although there's no need to make any sort of commitment at this early date, and of course the Piqua game will be one of them), and on those days plan to knock off early from work so I can breathe a bit during the drive. And when I don't make the trip, I can still catch home games on the stream, or attend games around here (or not).

Next year will be interesting for the Trojans. They have quite a bit of graduating talent to replace, not least of which is their record-breaking running back. Coming off three straight league championships and playoff appearances, living up to their own standards will be quite a challenge. It'll be a transition of another type, too, as they leave the Greater Western Ohio Conference and re-form the Miami Valley League with Piqua, Sidney, Tippecanoe, Vandalia Butler, Greenville, West Carrollton, Xenia, Fairborn, and Stebbins. Purely from a football standpoint, I don't like it. It's great that Troy, Piqua, Sidney, and Butler (and Greenville, I guess) are staying together as traditional competitors, but I don't especially like that they left Trotwood behind, no matter what a juggernaut they've turned themselves into in football.

The MVL will probably be a pretty decent all-around conference for sports, but for football only, it looks like a loser to me. I'm guessing it'll feature Troy and Piqua as perennial contenders battling it out for league championships, with Tipp, Butler, Sidney, and maybe Xenia in the background, and everyone else being awful. I'm certainly not going to complain about Troy and Piqua being at the top of the heap--it'll be like the old GMVC days! Except there's no Northmont in this group to make it interesting. Instead, there's Fairborn and Stebbins (and West Carrollton, even though they were in the GMVC back in the day), and winning those games isn't going to help much toward making the playoffs, and playing in them isn't going to help your team get better so they can advance to that elusive third round. Especially since the nine-game league schedule is only going to leave one opening for a non-conference game, and that will always be in week 1 of the season.

That's getting ahead of myself, though, and I'd caution anyone to take my prognostications with a heaping spoonful of salt--I remember thinking (and probably saying) when playoffs expanded from four teams per region to eight that Troy would probably never miss them again. Given the run of success Troy was having at the time, it seemed reasonable, but looking back, it was obviously wildly optimistic. But hey, when it comes to Trojan football, that's me all over.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Troy 7 Piqua 6

Well, that was a little needlessly dramatic. But hey, a win's a win (especially in this rivalry)...a conference championship is a conference championship...and a playoff berth is a playoff berth.

This is the first Troy football game I've attended this year, but it's not the first time I've seen the Trojans play. Due to Troy High School's mass communications program, the home games are generally streamed online, and so I've been able to see those games, at least. Not being able to attend any games in person has been hard...but I've been to every Troy-Piqua game since my first as a sophomore in 1992, and that was a streak I wasn't about to break. I had today off from work, so I made the journey from Columbus to Troy (to visit my parents) and then to Piqua for the game. Weather-wise, I could have picked a better night, as it was cold and rainy the entire time, but it was good to be in a stadium to watch my beloved Trojans play once again.

I started to have a bad feeling about this game on Troy's first offensive series. After kicking off and forcing Piqua to punt, Troy took the field without star tailback Jaydon Culp-Bishop, the GWOC's leading rusher, and promptly went three and out. Then, after another Piqua punt, Troy came out once again without JCB in the backfield, and had another three and out. Piqua's run-heavy offense held onto the ball for a lot of time, so that was it for the first quarter. JCB joined the offense in the second, but by that point they were really out of sync.

There's a line in the movie Dodgeball that sums up how the Trojans looked on offense for much of the night. I won't repeat it here, because it's not PC, especially when applied to high school kids, but it's out there, and if you've seen the movie, you probably know what I mean. The defense, on the other hand...Piqua's run game gave them some trouble here and there, but Troy was able to keep them bottled up when it mattered. When they finally got their offense in some semblance of order and scored with just a few minutes left in the game to take the 7-6 lead, it was more relief than anything. And the last few minutes, standing and cheering for the final defensive stand to seal the game, were super fun--the way this rivalry is meant to be.

With the win, Troy now holds a 2-game edge in the series, now played 134 times, 65-63-6. They also finish the regular season at 9-1, a perfect 5-0 and outright champions of the GWOC North--the final time that particular honor will exist, with a number of teams (including both Troy and Piqua) breaking away from the GWOC to reform the Miami Valley League. (Personally, I wish they would have gone back to being the Greater Miami Valley Conference, which was what they were in back in my day.)

So that's the regular season. Next up is the playoffs, and the Trojans will host a game in the first round. It looks like the opponent will be Harrison, from west of Cincinnati, who finished up their regular season at 7-3. That will be made official at some point this weekend. I won't be able to make the game next week, unfortunately, but hopefully it will be streamed online so I can catch it.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Programming Note or Two

High school football season is nearly upon us. Indeed, around the state of Ohio tonight most teams were in action, putting in their final preseason scrimmage in preparation for their regular season opener this coming week. My beloved Troy Trojans hosted their annual exhibition against the Dunbar Wolverines, dominating en route to a 42-0 victory in 3 quarters of action. I'm not sure what you can glean from that considering that Dunbar's team had around 1/3 of the numbers Troy did in terms of players, but at the very least it seems as though Troy is well-positioned to continue the run of success they've had in the past two seasons under Matt Burgbacher.

I've been writing about the Trojans for a long time and following them even longer, since my own days at THS, going back a depressing number of years to the fall of 1991. Over the years, to my neverending surprise, I've had a handful of people reach out to let me know that they were following their hometown team through my blog from a number of far-flung places across the country and even around the globe, which has touched me more deeply than you can probably imagine. And so it's with a heavy heart that I must announce that I won't be doing that this year.

A number of factors went into the decision, but what it boiled down to was that the joy and peace I derive from being at a Trojan football game have been counterbalanced the past couple of years by the angst involved in getting from Columbus to Troy (or wherever in the surrounding environs said game is being played) by the 7pm kickoff time that is, I think, now nearly universal throughout the state.

Now, there are a couple of caveats. First is that, as of now, I absolutely do plan on attending the Troy-Piqua game that closes the regular season on October 26. I haven't missed one of those bad boys since the aforementioned fall of 1991, and I see no reason why that streak can't continue. The second is that it's entirely possible I'll make it to other games--my family still lives in Troy, after all, and so if I happen to be heading over that way anyway, what the hell. I just have no specific plans in that direction, so if it happens, it'll probably be a spur-of-the-moment type thing. And if the Trojans should happen to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season...I'd hope to be there, but it would depends on where the game was being played, and at what time.

So how will I fill the next nine Friday nights, you may ask? Well. High school football in the fall is so much a habit with me now that I can't imagine sitting out the season entirely. The most likely scenario is that I'll see if my itch can be scratched by attending games at one of the two local high schools. Thomas Worthington is my neighborhood school, but I feel more affinity for Worthington Kilbourne, probably based on the fact that Troy faced (and, sadly, lost to) them in the state playoffs in 1997. Also, last year Troy's home games were video-streamed online, so I'll probably take advantage of that on occasion if it's still the case.

This may turn out to be a temporary, one-year type situation. All I know is that if I keep driving to games without finding out if it's feasible to follow the Trojans from afar, I'm going to run myself ragged, and probably drive myself and my wife crazy in the process. Rest assured I'll still be interested and invested in the team and keeping tabs on them by any means available, and we'll see how it goes.

Moving on from that...I just want to note, although I have no concrete plans and am just blue-skying at this point, that I've been thinking about changing the layout of my blog and possibly moving to a whole new site altogether, in an effort to reinvigorate my interest in keeping it updated. So much of the online community has abandoned the blog format for other, generally shorter-form social media, and the Internet has been worse for it, to my way of thinking. At any rate, if it should happen, there are a couple of things you can count on. First is that some of my favorite posts from this site would likely be migrated over, sort of a "greatest hits" type thing to get things started off on the right foot. Second is that it won't be a secret, with this blog staying live to point to my new landing spot, wherever it may be. I have no idea at this point if there's anyone out there who is even interested, but if you're out there, I'll make sure you can find me.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Anderson 33 Troy 0

And so it ends. The last game of the year for Troy turned out to be so much like the first one: shut out on the road by a really good team.

As you can see from the photo above, I did not attend this game. It killed me to miss it, the first playoff game I've missed in the entire time I've been following Trojan football, dating back to their ill-fated rematch with Piqua at Welcome Stadium back in 1992, when I was a sophomore at THS. But the logistics of making it from Columbus to Cincinnati (almost Kentucky) in time for kickoff (despite the more convenient 7:30 start time) and then back again after the game were going to be difficult. Add in the limited parking and seating at Anderson High School, and the trip started to sound like a night of misery just waiting to happen. And so, with the ability to stream a video broadcast, I opted to go that route instead. I'm getting soft in my old age.

Thinking about this game beforehand, I came to the conclusion that no outcome would surprise me: I could see either team winning in a squeaker; I could see either team winning fairly easily. Well, ha ha. As the game played out, it occurred to me that there was one outcome I hadn't really considered: the Trojans being shut out and running-clocked. That did, in fact, surprise me.

It surprised me because Anderson seemed like Sidney: high-powered offense, questionable defense. I knew they would score on Troy, but I figured the Trojans would be able to move the ball and score as well. I wasn't sure they would be able to score enough, of course, but seeing them blanked did catch me off guard.

This just didn't look like the same Troy team of the past several weeks, particularly on defense. Granted, Anderson runs an offense unlike any other, but still. The Trojans couldn't get any pressure on the quarterback. There was always a receiver wide open somewhere. It didn't look like they were taking good pursuit angles, and they missed a lot of tackles. Just not typical for Troy. Still, all of that matters little when you don't put points on the board. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what happened to Troy's offense, other than Anderson's defense playing lights-out. Jaydon Culp-Bishop had a decent night but had to work for absolutely everything, and couldn't break free for any long gains. Sam Coleman didn't play poorly either, even though he was on the run a lot. Really, you just have to give Anderson credit for being ready for everything Troy wanted to do, and stopping it.

I said it last year and I'll say it again now: I really like Anderson's aggressive style of play. It's tough for other teams to match up against. It'll be interesting to see how they do next year with a quarterback other than Volpenhein running the show. Something I don't like? Anderson's racist team name, unmentioned here now and always. Come on, folks, it's 2017; make this go away.

Back to football, I also hate the running clock rule. I've come to accept it in the regular season, but I really hate it in the playoffs. By the time it kicked in for this game, sure, the Trojans weren't going to come back and make it a game, but it would have been nice if they would have had more of a chance to get on the board. After the season these guys had, I just hated to see them go out this way.

But hey, they have nothing to hang their heads about. It really was a hell of a season. After losing the seniors they did last year, to come back and put together another run to the playoffs, not to mention a GWOC North championship, was nothing short of incredible. The individual players and the entire units made visible strides as the season went on, and it was awesome to see and fun to watch. A hearty congratulations goes out to all the players and coaches, as well as everyone else associated with the team. I'm already looking forward to next year.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Troy 32 Piqua 6

In all my years of going to high school football games, I've sat through my fair share of unpleasant weather. When it rains, normally it will either storm, in which case the game will be suspended and I can take shelter somewhere, or the rain will slacken and strengthen over the course of the game. Tonight was probably the most solid, straight-up downpour I've endured. It was raining steadily when I got to the stadium, it was raining steadily when I left, and it rained steadily the whole time in between.

Which made me nervous about the game. All things being equal, I knew Troy was probably the better team coming in, but that doesn't always matter in a rivalry game of this magnitude. Then you add in the weather conditions and you really just never know what's going to happen.

There was nothing to worry about, as it turned out. The weather did contribute, probably, to some early Troy turnovers, which gave Piqua a chance to stay in the game. Fortunately for the Trojans, however, their defense is phenomenal in all conditions, and they were able to keep Piqua off the scoreboard as the offense found its footing. Their one score came on a long fumble recovery late in the third quarter, but the defense pitched a shutout. Jaydon Culp-Bishop had his now-standard awesome performance to give Troy the edge in this one.

This win gives Troy the edge in the long-running series, which now stands at 64-63-6, and that was worth sitting through the rain and cold to see. Now the Trojans are on to the playoffs, while Piqua will be handing in their equipment and turning their eyes to basketball season. It looks like Troy will be making the trek down I-75 to take on Anderson in a rematch of last year's first-round playoff game (a 41-35 Troy win, in Troy). Should be fun!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Troy 42 Greenville 0

There's really not a whole lot to say about this one. It was simply a case of a really good football team going up against a team that was just overmatched in all aspects of the game. The Trojans put up all 42 of their points in the first half, and the backups came in and maintained the margin for the second half, which was played entirely under an OHSAA-mandated running clock due to the 30+ point-margin difference. Still, there were some really positive things to come out of this game.

First off, the Trojans took care of business. Last week's big win over Sidney didn't sidetrack them, nor did next week's big matchup with Piqua. It would have been pretty easy for them to come out this week and just go through the motions and still come away with a win. They didn't do that; they were focused and crisp from the get-go. They put the Green Wave away quickly, and then the coaches emptied the bench to get the second string some time and to keep the starters healthy for everything that's still to come this season.

I was also really happy to see Sam Coleman have a really good night at quarterback. This game was an opportunity for the Trojans to work on their passing game a little bit, to get some rhythm going for Piqua (and beyond). Coleman showed good touch and accuracy even on some long throws, going 14 of 16 for 207 yards and 2 TDs. He's really come a long way this season, which is awesome to see. The Trojan offense is really hitting its stride at the right point of the year.

And the defense...well, what can you say? This is one of the best high school defenses I've seen. I think a shutout is always cool, and I was really happy the defense held onto it, even after the starters came out of the game.

And now it's Piqua week. Ohio's most-played rivalry is all knotted up at 63-63-6 after 132 meetings. Piqua comes in at 6-3, and they'll be looking to force a tie for the GWOC North title, which Troy will win outright with a victory. Both teams also have playoff aspirations. Needless to say, it's a big one. The battle will take place next Friday night at Troy Memorial Stadium.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Troy 48 Sidney 21

Years ago, before the #4 was retired for the Trojans (because Ryan Brewer was still wearing it), at some point during the week I'd take a look at Friday's matchup for the Trojans and make some predictions about the way the game was going to go. I don't do that anymore—partially because I'm not as plugged into the Dayton-area high school football scene as I used to be and partially because I don't have anyone to tell that would really care—but I did have some basic thoughts going into this one.

Sidney tailback Isaiah Bowser is having an absolutely incredible year, but in the battle of the irresistible force vs. the immovable object, my vote was for Troy's defense. I've just seen them play so well this season, and I knew they'd have another great effort against Bowser. I was actually more concerned about Andre Gordon, the Yellowjackets' quarterback. If I was making predictions, I would have said that Bowser would have fewer than 100 yards rushing, and that Gordon would have more than he did. And with Sidney's shaky defense, I felt like the Trojans might be able to win this one handily.

I know I get no kudos now for predictions I never spoke aloud or committed to paper or screen, but nevertheless, this game played out pretty much exactly like I expected. Sidney's having an incredible season, the likes of which they haven't seen in a very long time, but they just didn't quite seem to be quite ready for a game of this magnitude. They seemed to be pressing to make things happen, which resulted in their five turnovers. With their defense unable to stop Troy's offense more than just occasionally, that was pretty much the ballgame.

One specific thing I want to mention: Jaydon Culp-Bishop's 99-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was one of the most incredible things I've seen on a football field. He had a massive hole to run through, and once he hit it, I looked at the angles of the defenders and, with his speed, knew he had a great chance to take it to the house. Considering the Yellowjackets were in great shape with the Trojans pinned at the 1, that had to be a shattering blow. To Sidney's credit, though, they never let the deficit get to running-clock territory. They fought hard. When the bright lights shine down on them for their next big game (which probably won't come until the playoffs roll around), I think they'll be more ready for it.

This was Troy's last road game of the year--or, at least, for the regular season. They'll return home next week to take on Greenville (2-6). That may not sound like a premier matchup, but it should be a great opportunity for the Trojans (now 6-2) to take a breath and get some things tuned up before the Week 10 tilt with archrival Piqua (and then, hopefully, the playoffs).