By David Fong
TROY — Given the Belmont football team’s prediliction for running the ball, Matt Burgbacher figured his linebackers were all set up for a big night.
Even the Troy football coach Matt Burgbacher couldn’t have predicted how big, however.
“Our linebackers all had outstanding games,” Burgbacher said.
With the Bison eschewing the passing game completely in last Friday’s season opener against the Trojans — Belmont attempted exactly one pass all night, which resulted in a pass interference call against the Trojans — Troy’s four starting linebackers feasted on the running game, with all of them recording double-digit tackles.
Leading the way was senior outside linebacker Sam Jackson, who finished with 15 total tackles — including 10 solo stops — five tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. Senior inside linebacker Blake Burton was next with 14 tackles — including 11 solos — one caused fumble, one tackle for loss and one quarterback sack. Senior inside linebacker Shane Shoop had 11 tackles and a tackle for loss. Senior outside linebacker Spencer Klopfenstein had 11 tackles (10 solos), four tackles for loss and one caused fumble.
It was the debut at linebacker for both Jackson and Klopfenstein. Jackson moved from safety to linebacker in the offseason, while Klopfenstein had played almost exclusively at tight end his sophomore and junior seasons, seeing only spot duty on defense. Burton and Shoop were Troy’s starting inside linebackers last season.
“Sam Jackson was dominant,” Burgbacher said. “‘Klop’ did a great job in his first start at linebacker. Blake and Shane did exactly what we expected them to do. It was a great night for our linebackers.”
Belmont finished the game with 41 rushing attempts for a grand total of 86 yards — impressive, considering the Bison rushed for 87 yards on the opening drive of the game alone, marching down to the Trojan 1-yard line before Jackson thwarted the drive with a fumble recovery.
Long after his teammates had left the lockerroom following Friday’s game, Troy running back Jaydon Culp-Bishop sat on a training table, flipping through his cell phone and chatting with Troy athletic trainer Justin Perkins.
After Perkins made sure Culp-Bishop checked out fine, he left. Culp-Bishop remained seated on the training table a few minutes longer before Burgbacher went to check on him.
“Are you alright?” Burgbacher asked.
“I’m just sore,” Culp-Bishop replied. “I’m real sore.”
Hard to blame him.
Culp-Bishop had just 14 carries on the night — finishing with 166 yards and three touchdowns — but Belmont’s massive defense put a hit on him nearly every single time, with many of Culp-Bishop’s yards coming after contact.
He may be best known for his breakaway speed and his hiccup-quick cutbacks, but Burgbacher said Culp-Bishop — who rushed for more than 1,500 yards and earned All-Ohio honors last season — is more than just a speedy back who shies away from contact.
“He can run some people over,” Burgbacher said. “And I think he proved that tonight. He may not be the biggest back in the world, but he’ll lower his shoulder and run over some people.”
Culp-Bishop also saw action on defense for the first time in his career, starting at strong safety and finishing with a pair of tackles.
A number of Trojans made the first varsity starts of their careers Friday.
On offense, junior Brayden Siler made his first-career start at quarterback — he had started at kicker the past two seasons — and completed 7-of-12 passes for 87 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also had seven carries for 31 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
He was playing being an offensive line that had four new starters — senior Jesse Westmeyer at tackle, senior guard Marshall Brueckman, sophomore guard Jakob Moorman and junior center Riley Hubbard. Shoop, a starter at linebacker the past two seasons, also made his first-career start at slot receiver.
On defense, sophomore Adam DeCerbo made his first start at nosetackle, while seniors Zach Niswonger and Garrett Jones made their first starts at defensive tackle, although Jones had been a starter at outside linebacker last season. Jones finished with three tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. DeCerbo had four tackles, including a tackle for loss. Niswonger was in on eight tackles.
Jackson and Klopfenstein made their first starts at linebacker, but had previously started at different positions in their careers.
Junior Weston Smith made his debut as a starting cornerback, finishing with two tackles. Jacob Shoop — a starter last season at receiver — made his first start at free safety, finishing with six tackles. Culp-Bishop, Troy’s starting running back last year and this year, made his first start at strong safety.
Troy travels to Xenia, a 41-14 winner over Beavercreek in Week 1.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong