By David Fong
MIAMI COUNTY — The Troy defense is about to face the best running back it has seen all season.
And while that’s a frightening prospect in and of itself, Trojan football coach Matt Burgbacher knows that’s only part of the problem.
“Obviously our first priority is finding a way to try to slow down Darien Tipps-Clemons,” Troy’s coach said of Piqua’s junior running back, who is second in the Greater Western Ohio Conference with 187 carries for 1,323 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. “He may be the best running back we’ve seen all season. He’s a complete back. He can run, he can catch and he can block.”
Unfortunately for the Trojans, he’s only part of the problem.
Senior quarterback Rupert Delacruz has completed 78 of 142 passes for 1,137 yards, to go along with five touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s got a host of targets, led by senior Noah Lyman, who leads the GWOC North with 32 catches for 646 yards and four touchdowns.
“You can’t get so caught up worrying about Tipps-Clemons that you forget about Delacruz,” Burgbacher said. “He’s a kid who makes plays for them. He can throw and run the ball. If you forget about him, he’s going to make you pay. Plus, he’s got some huge receivers. The Lyman kid is 6-foot-4. The (Colton) Bachman kid is 6-foot-6. Their tight end, Nathon Monnin, is 6-foot-5. They provide all kinds of match-up problems for teams with their size on the perimeter.
“With some of the other teams we’ve played this year, we kind of knew what to expect and there was one thing we could kind of focus in on. You can’t really do that with Piqua. They’ve got a running back who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and they’ve got a quarterback who has thrown for more than 1,000 yards. They’ve got a lot of ways they can hurt you.”
As good as Piqua’s skill position players are, however, Burgbacher may be most worried about the Indians’ mammoth offensive line. At the tackles are senior Cameron Hill (6-foot-5, 233 pounds) and Noah Magill (6-1, 267); guards are sophomore Ben Bynum (5-11, 228) and junior Tony Grunkemeyer (6-1, 257) and at center is senior Kyle Jones (5-11, 230).
“Obviously it all starts up front for them,” Burgbacher said. “They’ve got a huge line — although every line we’ve gone up against this year is bigger than us — and they can move some people. They’ve got a nice mix of seniors and younger guys. They’ve got a really good offensive line.”
As good as Piqua is on offense, however, it’s not as though Troy’s defense doesn’t present some concerns for Piqua coach Bill Nees.
“They’ve really developed as the season has gone along,” Nees said. “Their defensive line keeps coming at you the entire game. They’ve got a couple of different guys they can rotate in and out.”
Troy’s defensive line is anchored by senior Jared Bair, who leads the team in tackles (60) and sacks (4.5) this season.
At linebacker, the Trojans are led by junior Will Brumfield, who has 52 tackles and a pair of sacks this year. Junior Michael Murray isn’t far behind with 50 tackles this season. Troy’s linebackers also have been bolstered by the return of senior Ryan Daum, who missed the first half of the season with a broken hand, but has recorded 42 tackles in just five games.
“Their linebackers are good,” Nees said. “I think now that they’ve got some kids healthy who weren’t there at the beginning of the year, they have come together as a unit.”
In the defensive backfield, senior Drake McDonaugh leads the team with three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown against Xenia. Austin Jacobs has two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown in the season opener against Chaminade Julienne. Safety Frankie Quintero has 46 tackles this season.
“Their defensive backs are playmakers,” Nees said. “They do a good job of keeping everything in front of them. They’ve caused a lot of turnovers this season — and when they do get an interception, they are all capable of taking it all the way back the other way.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong