By David Fong
MIAMI COUNTY — Since his arrival at Piqua High School three decades ago, Bill Nees has come to expect — even count on — certain things from the Troy-Piqua rivalry game.
Full stadiums. Crowds operating at full throat. Close contests.
And, most of all, a ground-churning Trojan rushing attack.
For the first time since Nees’ arrival in the mid-1980s — he would be promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach in 1992 — however, it’s not stopping the Trojan running game that Nees has to worry about nearly as much as Troy’s air attack.
“Obviously it’s a different type of offense than we’ve seen at any point during the time I’ve been here at Piqua,” Nees said. “Their quarterback is impressive. He does a nice job getting the ball to their receivers, all of whom seem capable of making plays after they catch the ball, too.”
Troy’s offense is powered by junior quarterback Hayden Kotwica, who recently broke Trojan legend Tommy Myers’ 55-year old single-season passing yardage record. So far this season, Kotwica has completed 141 of 263 passes for 2,022 yards, along with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
He’s got a fleet of receiving options to throw to, as well. Senior Luke Robinson has 37 catches for 581 yards and four touchdowns, junior Hayden Jackson has 23 catches for 458 yards and five touchdowns, Zach Boyer has 27 catches for 338 yards and two touchdowns and Will Brumfield has 14 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown.
As good as Troy’s passing game is, however, Nees knows he can’t completely ignore Troy’s rushing attack. Junior running back Marc Scordia leads the Trojans with 115 carries for 493 yards and five touchdowns, while Kotwica is the Trojans’ second-leading rusher 126 carries for 441 yards.
“The one thing you can’t afford to do is get too caught up in defending the pass, because they can hurt you with the run, too,” Nees said. “They’ve got a mobile quarterback who can hurt you with his feet and they’ve got a nice running back.”
Troy’s offensive line boasts plenty of experience in senior tackles Jared Bair and Chris Linville, senior center Dallas Shamblin, senior guard Porter Davis and junior guard Travis Hall.
“Their offensive line returns a lot of experienced guys — guys we’ve gone against for the past few years,” Nees said. “They do a nice job giving the quarterback time to make plays.”
While Nees is game planning for a new-fangled Trojan offense, Troy coach Matt Burgbacher — while new to the rivalry in his first year as Troy’s coach — thinks he has a pretty good read on Piqua’s defense.
Which doesn’t make things any easier, mind you.
“When you watch film of their defense, you think, ‘This is a Bill Nees defense,’” Burgbacher said. “His defense has his mentality and his identity — they are tough, hard-nosed and they get after you. His defense — and his whole team, really — portrays him as a coach. They are fundamentally sound and they are going to get after you.
“They are going to run the same 4-4 defense they’ve always run with him there — and why not? It’s been very successful for them. They just rotate different guys in there every year and have the same success. They’ll run some different fronts and do some different things — but for the most part, you know what you are going to get.”
Piqua boasts a pair of massive junior defensive tackles in 6-foot-4, 320-pound Josh Potter and 6-foot-4, 333-pound Tristen Cox, who eat up space in the middle and allow the rest of Piqua’s defenders to make plays. Sophomore inside linebacker Jarrett Toopes leads the team in tackles with 54, while sophomore outside linebacker Ben Schmiesing isn’t far behind with 49.
The Indians also feature a pair of big, hard-charging defensive ends in 6-foot-2, 248-pound sophomore Derek Hite and 6-foot-5, 249-pound junior Nathon Monnin. Hite leads the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division with 5.5 sacks (along with 35 tackles), while Monnin has 3.5 sacks (and 38 tackles).
Defensive backs Dylan Cole and Alex Nees both are among the GWOC North leaders in interceptions with three apiece.
“Their defensive line is impressive,” Burgbacher said. “They’ve got some big boys up front. Their two defensive tackles both go ‘three bills’ and eat up blockers to let everyone else make plays. They are just a Bill Nees-coached defense. You know you are going to be playing a great defense when you play Piqua, so we are going to have to be ready.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong