By David Fong
TROY — The numbers, Matt Burgbacher admits, are staggering.
“I knew what they were doing last year, but until I went back and actually looked at what they did, I had forgotten how good they were,” the Troy football coach said of Belmont’s 2017 season. “That’s dang impressive.”
Dang impressive, indeed.
In nine regular season games last season, Belmont gave up exactly nine points — a 17-yard field goal against Thurgood Marshall and a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Cincinnati Hughes. The offense, meanwhile, racked up 411 total points, scoring 60 or more points three times and 40 or more points six times in nine games. During the regular season, Belmont outscored the opposition by an average of 45.7 to 1.0. In the Division II playoffs, Sidney beat Belmont 46-33.
Many of those same Belmont players will be returning this season to face Troy at 7 p.m. Friday at Troy Memorial Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
“If you go back five or six years ago, Belmont was consistently an 0-10 team — but they’ve been very good since Earl White came,” Burgbacher said. “He’s an outstanding coach. He’s done an amazing job turning that program around.”
The Bison will run an offense unlike any Troy will see during the regular season. The offense is run-heavy and, similar to the old single-wing formation, relies heavily on the quarterback carrying the ball. Last season Belmont used two quarterbacks, both of whom return. Junior quarterback Rian Reaves carried the ball 63 times for 605 yards and nine touchdowns, while sophomore Tavon Hardick carried the ball 34 times for 261 yards and five touchdowns.
Both quarterbacks return this season.
“Their offense is very different from what we are used to seeing,” Burgbacher said. “They are going to go double tights, a wing back, an h-back that lines up between the guard and tackle and their quarterback in shotgun. It’s going to be very run-oriented.
“Their offense can strike really quick. Their M.O. is definitely running the ball, but they’ve got enough athletes that they can also through the ball if they need to. They’ve got nice-sized kids on the offensive line.”
On the other side of the ball, the Bison return many of the key parts from a defense that gave up just nine points in nine games during the regular season. In particular, Burgbacher said Belmont returns impressive defensive tackles in Rayjee Warden and DeAnthony Martin.
“Defensively, they run a 4-3 and mix up their coverages in the secondary,” Burgbacher said. “They are going to put a lot of pressure on you, defensively. Their two defensive tackles are back, and both are very good football players. We know they are going to blitz the snot out of us. They are going to be coming from all different directions. They are very aggressive and work downhill. Obviously their team speed is going to be very good.”
Troy will open the 2018 season on the heels of Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division titles and Division II playoff appearances the past two seasons. With a number of key players returning from last year’s team, both expectations and excitement are running high.
“That’s the great thing — we have some kids who have been putting in the time and putting in the effort to get ready for Aug. 24,” Burgbacher said. “That’s what the offseason is all about. You can try to simulate game situations in scrimmages, but you can’t simulate that Friday-night atmosphere.
“This is exciting not only for our players, but for our fans, our students and everyone in our community. It’s neat that we get to experience all of that together.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong