It was a story that deserved a happily ever after.
Actually, it was a story that practically demanded a happy ending. It came on its knees, hands clasped reverently in front of it, begging for some sort of justice, just a shred of inner peace.
But it was football, not a fairy tale, and sometimes reality in the world of sports trumps what seems fair or deserving.
Friday night, the Troy football team nearly pulled off one of the most improbable — and most heroic — comebacks in school history, coming from a 24-7 halftime deficit and then fighting back from a 38-14 fourth-quarter hole, only to ultimately fall short in a gut-wrenching, heart-pounding 45-42 loss to Xenia at Troy Memorial Stadium.
Given what the Trojans have been through the past season and a half — a 1-9 finish last year that featured blowout losses seemingly on a weekly basis, followed by a tumultuous offseason that saw the hiring of a new head coach — it almost seemed unfair that Troy had to lose, particularly the way it did, Friday night.
But football — much like life — isn’t always fair.
“This one hurts, there’s no doubt about it,” first-year Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said after the game. “Our kids fought so hard. Our kids never gave up.”
That’s quickly becoming the hallmark of this team.
These Trojans never quit.
After defeating Chaminade Julienne 42-31 in the season opener weeks ago, it seemed as though anything was possible for this team. All of the bad taste — and all of the embarrassment of a season prior — seemed washed away in one fell swoop. Then came a devastating 28-26 loss to Cincinnati Northwest, followed by blowout losses to Dayton-area powerhouses Miamisburg and Wayne.
Friday’s loss to Xenia may have been the most stinging to date, however.
All of a sudden, the future doesn’t look so bright.
Not to those on the outside looking in, however.
Burgbacher still believes in his team — and perhaps just as important, the kids themselves still seem to believe in themselves.
“These kids are fighters,” Burgbacher said. “We are a much better team than our record would indicate. If you came to one of our practices, you wouldn’t believe it. We don’t look like a team that’s only won one game in our practices.”
Even at 1-4 — which is all the more frustrating considering the Trojans are just a handful of plays away from being 3-2 — there’s still much for Troy to play for this season.
Next week, Troy will open Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division play seeking to become the first Troy team since 2000 to capture a league crown. Given this team’s resiliency — and considering all it has been through in the past year — it would be foolish to rule them out of the race.
“Our first goal is always to win the league,” Burgbacher said before the season started. “That’s our No. 1 goal. If you do that, everything else takes care of itself.”
It’s hard not to fall in love with this team and where it is, particularly when taking into consideration all it has been through to get to this point. Burgbacher still believes his team’s best football is ahead of it this season — and the Trojans certainly made a case for that Friday night.
There’s still five weeks of football — the most important five weeks of football — left to play this season. In the eyes of many, Troy remains a long shot at best to win a GWOC North crown, particularly considering every other team in the North — Trotwood, Sidney, Butler, Piqua and Greenville — all came through the non-conference portion of the schedule with better records than the Trojans.
But Burgbacher truly believes, in his heart of hearts, his team will contend.
Mostly because he believes in his kids.
“I love these kids and their attitudes,” he said. “I am certain we are going to grow from this loss and come back even stronger. These kids aren’t going to hang their heads for long — that’s just not in their nature. That’s not the type of kids we have on this team.”
Maybe he’s right. Maybe this loss will only serve to make the Trojans stronger down the stretch.
Any maybe — just maybe — the Trojans will get the happy ending they seemingly deserve.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong