By David Fong
TROY — It wasn’t easy, but — for the first time in a long time — Troy and Piqua will play for it all.
Troy held on to defeat a rugged Greenville team 42-21 Friday night, while Piqua knocked off Tippecanoe 27-20, setting up a winner-takes-all meeting this coming Friday at Alexander Stadium as the Trojans and Indians meet for the 132nd time. With the win over Greenville, Troy improved to 8-1 (4-0 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division), while Piqua improved to 7-2 (4-0 in the American North).
“This is where we wanted to be,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “It’s a one-game season now.”
Troy’s offense had a rough night through the air and turned the ball over four times — giving the Trojans nine turnovers in the last two games — but Josh Browder carried the ball 21 times for 269 yards and five touchdowns to provide Troy the offense it needed. He had 18 carries for 187 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone.
His 70-yard touchdown scamper on the first play of the second half gave the Trojans a 35-14 lead.
“My offensive line did a great job,” Browder said. “We were having a little trouble throwing the ball, so I just followed them. I really had no idea how many yards I had. I was just trying to help the team win the game.”
Burgbacher said it was an impressive performance by Browder and the offensive line.
“Josh did a great job running the ball and the offensive line did a great job blocking for him,” he said. “We turned to the ball over four times, which is why too many; that’s something we’ll need to fix going into next week.”
The Green Wave would score late in the third quarter to cut Troy’s lead to 35-21 and would keep hanging around through most of the fourth quarter. Troy didn’t seal the victory until sophomore linebacker Shane Shoop picked off a pass and returned it 75 yards for a score, putting the Trojans up for good.
“I saw it, I caught and and then everything felt slow motion,” Shoop said. “I was running. I didn’t know what to do. I just kept my head up and stiff armed a little bit. It felt good.”
The Green Wave (3-6, 0-4 in the American North) gave the Trojans fits from the opening kickoff.
Greenville took the opening drive and marched right down the field with senior running back Logan Eldridge leading the way, allowing Greenville to take a 7-0 lead.
In a sign of things to come, however, Browder immediately answered on Troy’s second play from scrimmage, breaking free on a 62-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 7-7. Troy’s defense would get a stop on the next drive, but fumbled deep in its own territory, which Greenville scooped up and returned to the Trojan 8.
Two plays later, Eldridge — who had 17 carries for 90 yards in the first half — scored to put the Green Wave up 14-7.
A 60-yard return by Shoop on the ensuing kickoff set up Browder’s second score of the night, a 15-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 14-14.
Troy linebacker Michael Murray picked off a Greenville pass to set up Browder’s third touchdown of the first half. Murray picked the ball off near midfield, then Browder broke free on a 35 yard run to give the Trojans the ball at the Green Wave 6-yard line. Two plays later, Browder punched it in to give Troy its first lead of the night.
Troy’s defense — powered by defensive lineman Joah Schricker’s sack — forced a three-and-out, giving Troy the ball at its own 38 with less than 3 minutes to play in the half. A long pass from Kotwica to Kobe Feltner, followed by another long run by Browder, put Browder in position for his fourth touchdown of the half, a 4-yard run, giving Troy a 28-14 lead going into halftime.
Even after Browder’s long run to open the second half, Troy couldn’t quite put Greenville away for good until the fourth quarter.
None of that matters now, however, as Troy and Piqua will play the biggest game between the two teams since 2000, when both teams went to the playoffs and shared the now-defunct Greater Miami Valley Conference title.
“We took care of what we needed to do,” Burgbacher said. “It wasn’t always pretty, but our kids kept fighting and now we are where we want to be.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong