By David Fong
TROY — In the eyes of the Trojan faithful, the members of the Troy football team were still winners.
Moments after Troy’s last-gasp comeback attempt fell short in a 33-28 loss to Butler, the Trojans assembled on the sidelines, where they received a standing ovation from the fans who stuck around to watch the end of a Week 9 thriller.
“That was great,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said of the warm reception following the thrill-a-minute contest. “That was probably one of the most gratifying moments of the season to see that. And these kids deserved it. They left it all out there on the field. I am so proud of these kids.”
With the loss, Troy fell to 2-7 (1-3 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division). Butler improved to 7-2 (4-0 in the GWOC North).
Not even a record-breaking performance by Hayden Kotwica — who unofficially threw for 441 yards in the game, easily breaking the single-game record of 374 yards set by Trojan legend Tommy Myers in 1960 — was enough in the offensive shootout.
“I thought our kids played great on offense,” Burgbacher said. “It all started up front with our offensive line, which played great against a very good Butler front seven. Hayden made some nice throws and all of our receivers made some great catches.”
Down 33-28 late after a 3-yard touchdown run by Butler’s Nic Martin, the Trojans marched down the field — thanks in part to long passes from Kotwica to Luke Robinson and Sam Jackson — to the Aviator 9 yard line. Three incomplete passes ended the drive with a little more than two minutes to play, however.
Butler got the ball back and turned the ball over on downs with less than a minute to play. Kotwica would lead the Trojans to midfield, but ultimately the Trojans again ran out of downs, allowing Butler to run out the clock.
“Butler is a good football team,” Burgbacher said. “There is a reason they are leading the GWOC North. They are a good football team, but we gave them everything we had. We are missing a few starters — but it’s ‘next man up.’ We had kids sick and injured, but we had other kids who stepped right in and we never quit.”
Troy jumped out to a 22-14 halftime lead thanks to a 41-yard touchdown pass from Kotwica to Robinson — who had around 200 receiving yards and two touchdowns on the night — and a pair of touchdown runs by Marc Scordia.
A pair of Trojan turnovers in the second half, however, allowed the Aviators to take the lead. First the Aviators picked off an errant Kotwica pass deep in Trojan territory, allowing Butler quarterback Chandler Craine — who, like Kotwica, put up huge offensive numbers — to complete a 27-yard TD pass to Aaron Field, cutting Troy’s lead to 22-20.
Late in the third quarter, Butler’s Gavin Kohler scooped up a Trojan fumble and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown, giving Butler a 27-22 lead, it’s first of the game. Troy would bounce right back again, however, with Kotwica hooking up with Robinson on an 18-yard scoring strike, giving the Trojans a 28-27 lead.
“Our kids just kept coming,” Burgbacher said. “They faced adversity all night, but never quit.”
Butler would score with less than four minutes to play to take the lead — and both of Troy’s late comeback attempts fell short.
Troy will close out the season next week at home against rival Piqua in the 131st meeting between the two teams.
“Now we have Piqua,” Burgbacher said. “These kids haven’t quit all season — I don’t expect them to now. We are going to come out against Piqua and give it our best shot.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong