By David Fong
Regional Sports Content Manager
TROY — Kelly Leak got thrown out at home trying to score the game-tying run.
Rocky Balboa went the distance with the champ, but ultimately lost on the judge’s scorecards.
And in the end, it made for better stories in both instances.
When it comes to sports movies, falling just short of the intended goal frequently works. In the 1976 baseball classic “The Bad News Bears,” the hapless heroes and heroine of Chico’s Bail Bonds (“Let Freedom Ring”) lose by one run to the dreaded Yankees in the little league championship game. An alternate ending was filmed that had the Bears winning — but when shown to test audiences, fans almost universally favored the ending that had the Bears losing.
In the original “Rocky” movie, Sylvester Stallone’s character goes a full 15 rounds against the heavily favored Apollo Creed, but loses on a controversial decision. The ending not only set up a series of highly profitable sequels, but earned the film the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976.
While falling just a little short in sports movies may make for a better story, however, the reality of coming up with anything less than perfection tends to sting a little more.
In the 117-year history of the Troy football team, only 11 squads have made it through an entire regular season unbeaten and untied. It happened in 1906, 1910, 1946, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1970, 1971, 1985, 1996 and 1997. The 1985, 1996 and 1997 made it through the regular season unbeaten and untied, but eventually lost in the Division I state playoffs. Ohio did not have a playoff system in place until 1972.
There also have been 14 near-misses in Troy High School football history, as well. Those 14 teams — 1897, 1899, 1904, 1908, 1913, 1923, 1945, 1947, 1951, 1959, 1960, 1972, 1977 and 1993 — all came within a whisker of finishing a perfect season, only to fall heart-breakingly short, finishing the season with just one loss or one tie.
While that may make for great cinema, the reality of it stings.
“It’s something I think about every day,” said Troy High School football coach Scot Brewer, a halfback on the 1993 Troy team that lost just one game, falling 16-15 to Piqua on the final play of the game. “I’ll be showering in the morning and it will hit me.”
The fact that only 11 teams in Troy’s illustrious history have ever made it through a regular season unblemished goes to show just how difficult an accomplishment it is.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is,” said Steve Nolan, who coached the Trojans from 1984-2011 and had three of Troy’s 11 undefeated and untied teams. “It’s a long season. Even if you have a talented team, things can go wrong during the year. You have to deal with injuries, close games — there are all sorts of things that can go wrong. Even on our most talented teams, you can point to certain breaks that went our way during the year and allowed us to stay undefeated.
“In 1985, Kevin Mescher catches a pass from Aaron Johnson late in the game against Northmont that keeps a game-winning drive alive. If we don’t make that play, we don’t finish the season undefeated. Sometimes, an entire season can come down to one play. You really have to have everything go right for you to finish the season unbeaten.”
Not only did Troy’s 14 teams come within one game of finishing with an unblemished record, they usually did so by razor-thin margins. Those 14 teams were outscored by a combined total of 113 points — an average of 8.3 points per game, or just a shade more than one touchdown and a two-point conversion per game. The most frequent perfect-season spoiler? Arch-rival Piqua, which accounted for four of those 14 losses or ties. Sidney and Fairmont, meanwhile, each accounted for two apiece.
Some of Troy’s top teams over the years — squads stacked with talent and depth — haven’t managed to reach that goal. That only makes their accomplishments slightly less significant. With that in mind, here’s a look at Troy’s “near-miss” teams over the years:
1897 (2-0-1): The first team in school history nearly finished a perfect season — but also only played three games that year. Troy opened the season — and its rich football history — with a 10-10 tie against Sidney. After defeating a team of alumni in the second game of the season, Troy avenged its earlier tie by beating Sidney 14-0.
1899 (2-0-1): Two years after Troy’s inaugural season, a tie against Sidney in the season opener against spoiled Troy’s chances at a perfect record during a three-game season. After tying Sidney 6-6 in the first game, Troy played Piqua in each of the next two games, defeating the Indians 17-0 and 17-5.
1904 (2-1): County rival Tippecanoe defeated Troy 6-0 in the opening game of the season, handing the Trojans their only loss. Troy rebounded in the following two games, beating Xenia 6-5 and Covington 6-0.
1908 (6-1): Troy’s scheduled had more than doubled by 1908, as the Trojans played seven games as opposed to three. After opening with a pair of wins over Covington (19-0 and 27-0) and a victory against Sidney (6-0), Troy lost its only game of the season, falling 6-0 to Springfield. Troy would finish the year with wins against Dayton Steele (5-0), Tippecanoe (22-0) and Wittenberg (17-0).
1913 (5-1): Dayton Steele High School no longer exists, but in 1913, the football team spoiled Troy’s chances at a perfect season, defeating the Trojans 10-0 in the third game of the season. Steele was the only team that even stayed close with the Trojans that year, as Troy blew out Lebanon (39-0), London (39-0), Piqua (18-0 and 85-0) and Sidney (79-0).
1923 (8-0-1): No team in the expanded-schedule era came closer to a perfect season than Troy’s 1923 team. The lone blemish on the Trojans’ record that season was a 6-6 tie with Piqua. Two weeks later, Troy would prove to be the better team, defeating the Indians 14-6 in the rematch. Troy also defeated Bellefontaine (40-0), Gettysburg (41-0), Sidney (40-6), Miamisburg (16-7), Greenville (7-0), Xenia (45-0) and Urbana (15-6).
1945 (9-1): Sandwiched around Troy’s perfect 10-0 season in 1946 were a pair of 9-1 teams — meaning the Trojans nearly went three years without a loss in the mid-1940s. In 1945, Piqua handed Troy its lone loss, 25-6, in the final game of the season. Leading up to the rivalry game, Troy beat Dayton Kiser (14-7), Tippecanoe (40-0), Greenville (14-0), Sidney (21-7), Vandalia (33-7), Xenia (19-7), Fairmont (19-13), Oakwood (20-12) and Miamisburg (18-7).
1947 (9-1): Troy closed out its perfect season in 1946 by defeating Piqua 12-6. The following year, however, the Indians against played the spoiler role, defeating Troy 40-6 in the final game of the season. Up to that point, Troy had defeated Dayton Kiser (13-6), Springfield Catholic Central (20-0), Greenville (15-6), Sidney (25-6), Vandalia (19-0), Xenia (20-0), Fairmont (12-0), Lima South (26-25) and Miamisburg (12-0).
1951 (8-1): Troy again went into the final game of the season undefeated — only this time, it was Fairmont that handed Troy its lone loss, defeating the Trojans 19-0. In the first nine games of the season, Troy beat Dayton Kiser (14-13), Fairborn (39-12), Miamisburg (40-13), Oakwood (45-7), Piqua (41-12), Greenville (40-0), Xenia (46-21) and Sidney (14-0).
1959 (8-1): In seven years as head coach at Troy, the legendary Lou Juilerat had three perfect teams — but he very nearly had five. After going 27-0 from 1955-57, Troy went 6-3 in 1958. With the record-setting tandem of quarterback Tommy Myers and receiver Tommy Vaughn (both of whom would go on to become All-Americans in college and play in the NFL) leading the way, Troy would lose just one game in 1959 and again the following year. In 1959, Fairmont handed Troy its lone loss, 8-0, in the middle of the season. Otherwise, Troy was untouchable, blasting Lancaster (32-7), Dayton Belmont (74-0), Xenia (66-0), Greenville (48-6), Sidney (68-6), Miamisburg (78-0), Fairborn (56-12) and Piqua (20-0).
1960 (8-1): Again, no team on Troy’s schedule could keep with the Trojans — with one notable exception. In the season opener, Lima Senior defeated Troy 14-12. Troy rolled from that point on, however, skewering Dayton Chaminade (30-6), Dayton Stivers (58-0), Piqua (62-0), Xenia (52-8), Greenville (54-12), Sidney (78-18), Fairmont (18-9), Miamisburg (58-0) and Fairborn (69-6).
1972 (9-1): Troy went undefeated in 1970 and 1971 and sent more than a half-dozen players from the 1971 team on to Division I college programs. The cupboard was far from bare the following year, however, as Troy nearly capped off a third-straight undefeated season. Only a one-point loss to Xenia, 13-12, kept the Trojans from perfection. Troy defeated Piqua (26-7), Fairborn (27-0), Wayne (30-0), Stebbins (9-6), Fairmont West (13-0), Springfield North (22-0), Fairmont East (36-33 in triple overtime), Beavercreek (19-0) and Centerville (28-0) that year.
1977 (9-1): A powerful Troy defense held the opposition to a combined 34 points in nine games in 1977, but Centerville nearly matched that total in the third game of the season, defeating Troy 33-26 in its only loss that year. Troy defeated Piqua (16-6), Beavercreek (35-3), Springfield South (22-6), Wayne (26-6), Xenia (36-7), Stebbins (22-0), Fairmont West (14-0), Springfield North (27-0) and Fairmont East (21-6).
1993 (9-1): Perhaps the most gut-wrenching of all Troy’s “near-miss” teams. In 1992, Troy defeated rival Piqua 22-7 in front of 14,000 fans at Troy Memorial Stadium, but fell to the Indians 20-7 in a rematch in the Division I regional semifinals. With most of its starters returning in 1993, Troy was looking for revenge. It didn’t break that way for the Trojans, however, as Piqua scored on the final play of the game and booted the extra point to defeat Troy 16-15. That year, Troy beat Elida (42-0), Wayne (44-35), Upper Arlington (21-13), Butler (43-0), Northmont (24-0), Greenville (70-7), Sidney (37-0), Trotwood (49-18) and West Carrollton (42-14).
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong