By David Fong
TROY — Matt McGillivary used to argue he wasn’t the smallest guy on the Troy football team.
He eventually gave up on that.
“I used to tell Derek (McDonagh) I was taller than him, but he passed me,” the senior receiver said. “Everyone passed me. I stayed the same. I’m the smallest guy.”
With his team reeling on homecoming night Friday at Troy Memorial Stadium, however, the smallest guy on the field — McGillivary is generously listed at 5-foot-7, 144 pounds in the team program — made two of the biggest plays in the Trojans’ 36-20 victory over Butler.
With the win, Troy improved to 5-2 (2-0 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division), while Butler fell to 3-4 (1-1). Troy takes on fellow GWOC North Division leader Sidney this coming Friday.
After the Trojans had stormed out to a 22-0 lead, Butler clawed its way back into it, cutting Troy’s lead to 22-20 when Aviator quarterback Mason Motter hooked up with Bryant Johnson on a 92-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion failed, allowing Troy to hold on to the narrow lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, McGillivary broke free on a 64-yard return to the Butler 29. Six plays later, junior running back Jaydon Culp-Bishop carried the ball in from 11 yards out, extending Troy’s lead to 29-20 late in the fourth and essentially icing the game. Culp-Bishop — who rushed for 127 yards — would add his third touchdown later for the final margin of victory.
“I was just trying to make something happen,” McGillivary said of the kickoff return. “I had got smacked on the kickoff before that one, so I wanted to do something. I found my holes, got great blocks and tried to get a good return.”
That was just the first of two big plays McGillivary would make to extend the lead, however. Following his return, the Trojans picked up a holding penalty and were facing third-and-18 at the Butler 37. Troy quarterback Sam Coleman got time in the pocket and found a wide-open McGillivary down the far sideline on a wheel route for a 27-yard gain and a first down.
“I knew they didn’t have anyone who could keep up with my dude,” Coleman said of McGillivary. “I just let him go to work. I got great protection and just threw it out there. He’s Mighty Mouse. He can do anything. That’s why he’s my dude.”
Big plays on special teams and a crushing defense were the story of the night for the Trojans, as the offense moved the ball in fits and starts, but never could get anything steady going, which would inevitably allow Butler back in the game in the second half.
“We like to make things interesting,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “Actually, we don’t. But that’s what we did tonight. We lost our composure in the second half. We’ve still got to put 48 minutes together. We really haven’t done that yet this year. We’ve played well at times, but we haven’t put a complete game together.”
Troy’s offense was struggling to move the ball in the first half, but it didn’t much matter, thanks to some incredible plays by Troy’s defense and special teams.
Trojan sophomore kicker Brayden Siler placed the opening kickoff perfectly and his teammates swamped the Butler kick returner at the Aviator 6. After three plays went nowhere, Butler was forced to punt and the Trojans were able to get a partial block, taking over at the Aviator 9.
The offense sputtered, however, and Troy was forced to settle for Siler’s 19-yard field goal to go up 3-0.
Butler next drive again went nowhere, as the Trojans forced a punt. That would be a recurring theme throughout much of the first half, as Troy’s defense held the Aviators without a first down for the first 18 minutes of the game. At one point in the first half, Troy’s defense had held Butler to minus-22 yards in total offense.
Taking over at the Butler 40, Coleman hit Jacob Shoop with a 21-yard pop pass, then hooked up with tight end Spencer Klopfenstein for a 14-yard gain. On the next play, Coleman finished off the drive with a 12-yard keeper, putting the Trojans up 9-0.The defense forced another punt from deep in Aviator territory, giving the offense the ball on the 30. A 24-yard rum by Culp-Bishop preceded his own 2-yard touchdown run, putting the Trojans up 15-0.
Midway through the second quarter, Troy’s defense and special teams set up the Trojans’ third score of the night. After the defense forced another punt, then snap was low and speedy Trojan linebacker Johnny “The Blur” Wehrkamp tackled the Aviator punter his own 2. On the next play, Sam Jackson bulled his way in, putting the Trojans up 22-0.
Butler’s offense did finally find some traction late in the second quarter, picking up its first first down of the game on an 80-yard scoring drive that culminated in a touchdown pass from Motter to Johnson, cutting Troy’s lead to 22-7 going into halftime.
Troy had a chance to put the game away early in the third quarter when Joah Schricker pounced on a fumble at the Butler 8. Two plays later, however, Troy — which was struggling to run the ball by that point — threw an interception, which Butler returned all the way to the Trojan 20, then scored two plays later to cut Troy’s lead to 22-14.
“We’ve got to pound the ball in that situation,” Burgbacher said. “We tried to get too fancy. We could have put the game away right there.”
A punt by Tucker Raskay would pin Butler at its own 8, but that merely set up the 92-yard touchdown pass.
Still, though, it didn’t matter, because the smallest kid on the field was about to make the biggest plays of the night.
“I’m the smallest guy out here, but I feel pretty big right now,” McGillivary said.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong