TROY — All week long, Matt Burgbacher had been trying to tell himself it was just another week, just another game and just another team.
But deep down, he knew his lack of verisimilitude would eventually come to the forefront.
He knew it was all a lie.
“This was hard,” Troy’s football coach said Friday night after playing Tippecanoe, the school from which he graduated and at which his father, Charlie, coached for more than two decades. The elder Burgbacher is now his son’s defensive coordinator at Troy. “I kept trying to tell myself all week that this was just another game for us, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t. It wasn’t for me and it wasn’t for dad. I didn’t say anything about it before the game, but I wanted to win this one for my dad.”
And, just in case he needed a gentle reminder that Friday’s game against his alma mater wasn’t just any other game, Burgbacher got a gentle reminder the moment he stepped on the Troy Memorial Stadium field.
“When I saw the helmets, that got to me,” Burgbacher said. “That was really hard for me. My dad is the one who changed the helmets when he became the head coach at Tipp in 1989. He’s the one who put the stripe on the helmet. I remember he said he wanted the stripe on the helmet to match the stripe on the pants. I don’t know what they had on the helmets right before he got there, but I know he’s the one who changed the helmets when he got there.”
As if the prospect of a former Tippecanoe quarterback and former Tippecanoe coaching legend squaring off against their former team wasn’t enough to add gravitas to the proceedings Friday night at Troy Memorial Stadium, one could also throw in the fact it was a battle of Miami County rivals that hadn’t played in 31 years, it was a match-up featuring a pair of one-loss teams, it was the Greater Western Ohio Conference debut for the Red Devils and the GWOC American North Division opener for both teams … oh, and it just happened to be homecoming for Troy.
Add in the fact there were representatives from four television stations, one radio station and no less than three print and/or online publications there to bring the event to the masses, and it would have been easy to forgive the Trojans had they been just a little distracted going into Friday night’s game.
But they weren’t. Troy took a 14-0 lead early. Tippecanoe — which gave Troy all it could handle in the first half — would cut the lead to 14-7 heading into halftime. The Red Devils came out blazing in the second half, marching down to the Trojan 25 in an attempt to tie the game.
The Trojans didn’t panic, however. Troy safety Jake Anderson intercepted a pass and, two plays later, Trojan running back Josh Browder broke loose on a 50-yard touchdown run to put Troy up by two scores one again.
From that point forward, the Trojans simply dominated the final two quarters. The defense completely shut down Tippecanoe’s wing-t offense, while the offense was impressive, as quarterback Hayden Kotwica threw a pair of touchdown passes and the Trojans were able to essentially run out the rest of the clock as senior running back Marc Sordia took center stage.
It was business-like. It was efficient. And, more than anything else, it was focused.
Focus has been the hallmark of the 2016 Troy football team. Ever since the team announced its presence to the Ohio high school football world with a second-straight win over state-power Trotwood in the season opener, the spotlight has been on the Trojans. Distractions have come by the bushel as a football-crazed town starving for a winner has wrapped its arms around the Trojans in a warm embrace.
Still, though, the Trojans have remained focused on its ultimate goals: winning the American North, which would be Troy’s first league title of any kind since 2000, and earning Troy’s first playoff berth since 2000. Each and every week, Troy has managed to turn a deaf ear to the background noise and focus on the team in front of it. Somehow, even in the face of all that is swirling around them, the Trojans have managed not to look back on past conquests or down the road at the bountiful possibilities that may await them.
Every week, they have remained focused on the task at hand.
“For this team, the biggest game is always the next game,” Burgbacher said. “I know it sounds cliche, but we really are taking every game week-by-week. We always tell our kids, ‘The best team doesn’t always win every week. It’s the team that is the best team that Friday.’ They’ve really bought into that.”
And that has been the absolute truth for the Trojans.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong