By David Fong
TROY — The last two times the Trotwood-Madison football team played Troy, superstar running back Raveion Hargrove combined for 17 total carries.
Troy won both of those games, stunning the Rams 21-20 in 2015 in one of the biggest upsets in Greater Western Ohio Conference history, and knocking off Trotwood 10-6 in last year’s season opener. He missed the entire 2015 game with an injury, and was limited to 17 touches last year, sitting out large portions of the second half.
Troy coach Matt Burgbacher doesn’t foresee that happening to Hargrove again this year. In fact, Burgbacher is fully expecting a heaping helping of Hargrove when his team opens the season at Trotwood Friday.
“Oh, absolutely, we plan on seeing him,” Burgbacher said. “They are going to run him right at us. And truthfully, whether he’s in the game or not, they are not going to change their offensive game plan. They want to establish the run and throw the ball when they want to throw the ball. It’s going to be up to us to stop them from running the ball and force them to throw the ball when they don’t want to throw the ball.”
Granted, stopping a fully healthy Hargrove is often easier said than done. The shifty, 5-foot-7, 165-pound running back — who has given a verbal commitment to play at Bowling Green State University — is closing in on 5,000-career rushing yards, putting him amongst the career leaders in Ohio high school football history.
As a sophomore, he carried the ball 270 times for 3,039 yards and 39 touchdowns — despite missing large portions of three games in the middle of the season — as Trotwood advanced to the Division III state semifinals. Last year, he again missed large portions of three games, but still had 162 carries for 1,562 yards and 21 touchdowns as the Rams advanced to the Division III state championship game.
“He’s an outstanding running back,” Burgbacher said. “I’m sure they are going to get him the ball Friday.”
Should Troy find a way to slow Trotwood’s running game, however, it will still have to contend with quarterback Markell Stephens-Peppers, who will be in his third year as the Rams’ starter. He threw for more than 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns (with 11 interceptions) as a sophomore. Last year, he threw for 1,863 yards and 22 touchdowns with just three interceptions (two of which he threw against Troy).
“From the time we first saw him in the seventh game of his sophomore year until now, his improvement has been tremendous,” Burgbacher said. “Physically, he’s matured. He’s making a lot better decisions. That’s what happens when you’ve been in an offense for three years.”
Defensively, Burgbacher said he sees speed everywhere he looks on Trotwood’s roster.
“They definitely use their quickness to their advantage,” he said. “And I’m not talking about just their defensive backs. Their defensive linemen, their linebackers, their defensive backs — all 11 guys they put out there can run to the ball. Their defensive front may not be as big as it has been in previous years, but they are quicker. They use that quickness.
“We’ve also got to make sure we get a hat on their linebacker, James Parker, every single play. He is outstanding. He had a big game against us last year (14 tackles), so we need to make sure we know where he is at all times.”
As if all of that wasn’t enough to deal with, Burgbacher said that, given the results the past two years, he knows he’s going to be dealing with an extremely motivated Trotwood team this year.
“Absolutely,” he said. “They haven’t lost many games the last two years. We were two of them. We’ve definitely got their attention. I know they’ve had this game circled for a long time. I don’t think Trotwood is going to be the only team that has us circles this year, though. The last couple of years, people probably had us circled as a game they knew they would win. Now they have us circled as a game they know they’ve got to have. We’ve put ourselves in that position; it comes with the territory.
“This is going to be a great game with a lot of excitement. That’s why we open up against Trotwood. We want to find out right away what kind of team we are. We have some strengths and we have some weaknesses — and we’ll be exposed in those areas, because Trotwood is a great football team. I’m looking forward to this one … and I know a lot of other people are, too.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong