By David Fong
TROY — Matt Burgbacher stood near the end zone, stooped over, his hands clutching his knees.
He looked up slowly, then looked back down at the Troy Memorial Stadium field.
Words escaped him.
“Aaaaarrrrggghhh!” the Troy football coach finally let out in a guttural exhaust, shaking his head slowly from side to side.
Finally, after a few seconds, he could come up with but one word.
“Frustrating,” he finally said, then repeated it again. “Frustrating.”
That only begins to tell part of the story from Friday night, as his team — which was one score away from having a running clock put on it — nearly pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in school history, only to fall short in a heartbreaking 45-42 loss to Xenia.
With the loss, Troy fell to 1-4, while Xenia improved to 2-3.
“You can’t question our kids heart,” Burgbacher said. “They never quit.”
Even though they easily could have. Down 24-7 at halftime and 38-14 in the fourth quarter — a Xenia touchdown would have started the running clock under Ohio High School Athletic Association rules — Troy scored 28 points in the fourth quarter and was on its way to winning the game with less than two minutes to play when a Xenia interception at the Buccaneer 6-yard line sealed the victory for the Buccaneers.
The Trojans were 18 feet short of making a miracle.
“These kids are fighters,” Burgbacher said. “It says a lot about this team. These kids kept saying, ‘We’re not done! We’re not done!’ I only said a few things to the kids at halftime. The kids did all the talking. They really took ownership of this thing.”
Troy likely wouldn’t have needed any such second-half heroics had it not been for a gaggle of mistakes in the first half. A series of mistakes in the form of turnovers, blown coverages and inexcusable penalties — coupled with a huge night from Xenia quarterback Danny Naylor — led to all four of the Buccaneers’ first-half scores as the Buccaneers built a 24-7 halftime lead.
First, the Trojans fumbled the ball on their first drive at their own 26, which led to a 23-yard field goal by Blake Bond, giving the Bucs a 3-0 lead.
After a Trojan punt, Xenia drove into Trojan territory, but faced a fourth and 14 at the Trojan 28. A breakdown in the Trojan secondary allowed Naylor — who had 203 yards passing in the first half alone — to find a wide open Rocky James at the Troy 6 yard line. One play later, Ray James scored on a 6-yard run to extend Xenia’s lead to 10-0.
“It’s nothing major that we are doing wrong,” Burgbacher said. “It’s the little things that are dding up. All those things we are doing wrong are fixable.”
Troy would answer with its own scoring drive, highlighted by a 38-yard pass from Hayden Kotwica to freshman running back Sam Jackson and capped off by a 10-yard scoring pass from Kotwica to Marc Scordia, cutting Xenia’s lead to 10-7.
That’s when things really fell apart for the Trojans.
After apparently stopping Xenia on its next drive, the Trojans were called for a personal foul on the punt, extending the Buccaneers’ drive. Two plays later, Naylor hooked up with Ray James on a 34-yard touchdown pass.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Trojans were called for a holding penalty, forcing them to start on their own 14. After a quick three-and-out, the Trojans were forced to punt, giving Xenia the ball near midfield with a little more than a minute to play in the half.
That would be plenty of time for Naylor, who first found Rocky James streaking down the left sideline for a 41-yard gain. Two plays later, TeAndre James punched the ball in from a yard out, extending Xenia’s lead to 24-7 just before halftime.
“We didn’t play very good in the first half — and we didn’t coach very well, either,” Burgbacher said. “You can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes against a good team like Xenia.”
While the scoreboard may have said otherwise, the Trojans refused to quit in the second half. After taking the second half kickoff, a 25-yard run by Jackson — who was making his varsity debut — set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Kotwica to Zach Boyer, cutting Xenia’s lead to 24-14.
Xenia would answer with two touchdown passes by Naylor, however, pushing Xenia’s lead to 38-14 — and the Trojans to the brink of a blowout.
Kotwica would catch fire, however, matching Naylor play-for-play as the second half turned into a true quarterback duel. Kotwica would throw for four touchdowns in the second half — two to Zion Taylor, one to Boyer and one on a 67-yard screen pass to Scordia — giving him five for the game. He tied the school record for touchdown passes in a game — Tom Myers threw for five touchdown four times in 1959 and 1960.
He also passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season, putting him back on track to break Myers’ single-season passing yardage mark of 2,009 yards set in 1960.
“Hayden did a great job,” Burgbacher said. “He made a lot of plays for us — but so did a lot of kids.”
Down 24, Kotwica would complet a 6-yard scoring strike to Taylor — who was seeing his first significant varsity action of the season — and add a two-point conversion pass to Boyer to cut Xenia’s lead to 38-22. After Xenia recovered an onside kick and scored to push its lead to 45-22, Kotwica threw a screen pass to Scordia, who outran the Xenia defense 67 yards for a score. Jacob Anderson booted the extra point, cutting the lead to 45-29.
“Marc made a few moves, then just outraced their defense the rest of the way,” Burgbacher said.
Troy’s defense got a stop and Kotwica marched the Trojans down the field again, connecting with Taylor on an 18-yard strike to pull the Trojans within striking distance, 45-35. Xenia would get the ball back with about six minutes to play and tried to milk the clock, but Trojan defensive back Drake McDonagh picked off Naylor and returned it 10 yards for a touchdowns, making the score 45-42.
Xenia’s drive would stall in Trojan territory, giving them the ball at their own 26 with just more than two minutes to play. Unfortunately for the Trojans, Xenia’s Rocky James picked off the final attempt to seal the victory for Xenia.
“You can’t fault these kids,” Burgbacher said. “They gave it everything they had.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong