By Josh Brown
BRADFORD — For both Troy Christian and Bradford, Week 2 was all about responding to adversity.
And the Eagles responded.
Troy Christian took charge in the first half thanks to some solid defensive plays and then put the game away by taking advantage of three third-quarter Railroader turnovers, with quarterback Caleb Twiss throwing four touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball to lead the Eagles to a 45-6 victory Friday night at Bradford High School.
“It’s nice to get things going again,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Jones said. “We talked all week about resetting our focus and not letting the loss last week beat us again this week. I was so impressed with our guys and our mental toughness. From the top on down, everybody contributed to this win.”
Troy Christian (1-1) may have gone a quick three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, but the Eagles were able to gain some momentum on defense after Bradford (0-2) failed on a fake punt attempt at midfield. Big runs by Jacob Edwards and Louden Saulbeamer set Troy Christian up with a first-and-10 at Bradford’s 32, and Twiss connected with Nathan Waltz in stride for a 32-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 6:29 to go in the first quarter.
The Eagles once more capitalized on strong defensive play soon after that, too. The Railroaders turned the ball over on downs at the Troy Christian 40-yard line with an incompletion on fourth-and-7, and the Eagles then embarked on a nine-play, 60-yard drive. Saulbeamer and Edwards carried the load on the drive with 46 yards combined, and Edwards finished it off with a 1-yard plunge to make the score 14-0 Troy Christian with 10:55 left until halftime.
Troy Christian’s Jason Blake then picked off a pass by Bradford’s Gavin Trevino and returned it to the Bradford 24, and three plays later, Twiss floated a 24-yard touchdown pass to Brady Clawson in the corner of the end zone to give the Eagles a 20-0 lead with 8:50 left in the half.
Twiss finished the game 10 for 23 passing for 151 yards and four touchdowns.
“Caleb did a great job,” Jones said. “For his second start, I thought he did a great job last week, and he did a great job again this week. And what’s great about him is he’s as hard on himself as I am on him. He made some errant throws, and that bothers him. He wants to continue to get better, and that’s good to see in your quarterback. It’s a way to lead by example when the guys see that.”
The Eagles got a little greedy before halftime, though. Taking over at their own 25 with roughly two minutes in the half, Troy Christian saw its two-minute drill tripped up by a pair of penalties, and the Eagles were forced to punt, giving the ball back to the ‘Roaders at the Eagle 4o with 31 seconds on the clock. A 13-yard quarterback scramble by Trevino, and a couple of short screens put the ball on the 15-yard line, and Bradford set up for a 30-yard field goal attempt.
But the field goal attempt was a fake, and Trevino found Larkin Painter in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown strike with :01 on the clock, making the score 20-6 Troy Christian at the break.
“We had a little setback at the end of the first half where they scored and it got them back in the game,” Jones said. “They took the momentum on that fake field goal, and we talked at halftime about taking the momentum back.”
An interception by Waltz on the first play from scrimmage in the second half led to a quick score for the Eagles as Saulbeamer — who finished with 105 yards on 11 carries — broke a 37-yard touchdown run up the middle. And the ensuing kickoff hit a Railroader on the front line and bounced high into the air, allowing Aiden Hicks to recover it at the Bradford 43.
“Oh yeah, we planned that … no,” Jones said with a laugh. “No, we didn’t plan that. We wanted to kick it low, but I didn’t want to kick it into the guy. That’s just one of the fortunate things that happened — we had a guy who was ready, we had an opportunity and Aiden was able to cash in on it.”
The Railroader defense held tough, though, stopping the Eagles on fourth-and-goal from the 2 — and Hunter Penkal broke a 37-yard run to get Bradford’s back away from the wall. On the very next play, though, the Railroaders fumbled a handoff and Troy Christian fell on it on the Bradford 26. A screen pass from Twiss to Clawson put Troy Christian on the 5, and two plays later, Jason Blake took a shovel pass up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown to put the Eagles up 33-6 with 6:47 left in the third.
On the first play of Bradford’s ensuing drive, an attempted screen pass fell incomplete — but also did not travel forward, and the Eagles jumped on the fumble to collect their third turnover in four Railroader plays in the third quarter. Seven plays later on fourth-and-15, Twiss tossed his fourth touchdown pass on the night, a 20-yarder to Clawson to make it 39-6 with 4:05 to go — turning on the running clock with the margin greater than 30 points in the second half.
All told, the Eagle defense dominated, holding Bradford to only 42 yards in the second half — all by Penkal, and all on only two positive plays.
“We challenged the guys on the line at the half,” Jones said. “I thought we weren’t getting it done on either side of the ball with our line. I challenged them, and they stepped up.
“We walked off the field at halftime, and our defensive coordinator said that ‘you guys walked off the field like you didn’t have any momentum left — and we’re the ones winning.’ And I think that had an impact on our guys. I think from then on, they realized that this game is ours, and if we just play as well as we can, we’ll be alright.”
The teams traded punts as Troy Christian carried that 33-point lead into the fourth quarter, and the Eagles forced another punt and took control of the ball with 5:17 to play. Josh Hivner broke a 50-plus yard run that was cut a little short at the end by a penalty downfield, and Edwards carried the ball to the 10. Hicks then scored on a 10-yard run with 1:18 to play to make it 45-6 and wrap things up.
The Eagles dedicated the game to Rick Anderson, James Anderson’s father, who passed away after Troy Christian’s Week 1 game. All of the Eagles players’ helmets had an “R.A.” on the back in tribute.
In Week 3, Troy Christian returns home to host Northridge, while Bradford remains at home and hosts Mississinawa Valley to open Cross County Conference play.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.