By Josh Brown
TROY — Since last season, Troy Christian and Bradford’s football teams took different paths.
And while it was easy to see that in the Eagles’ dominant 42-0 shutout victory over the Railroaders in their home opener at Eagle Stadium Friday night, it doesn’t quite say everything about how both teams’ Week 2 game played out.
Troy Christian is off to a 2-0 start after going 5-5 a year ago. In Week 1, the Eagles turned a 28-13 loss to Dayton Christian last season into a statement victory, winning 42-21. And while the Eagles defeated Bradford 45-6 on the road last season, they looked even more dominant and polished in this year’s matchup.
“We’ve been pretty happy with our first two games now, really happy with the way the guys are playing,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Jones said. “The guys are coming out and playing hard, and we’re getting better each week. Our line on offense and defense has been one of the strengths of our team, and we’ve got some running backs and guys at the skill positions that have the speed and ability to break off long runs and run away from people.
“That’s something we’ve been lacking the last couple years is that breakaway speed. We’d get guys out in the open and they’d get caught, but we’ve got some guys now that can make some moves and run away from people.”
Bradford, meanwhile, hasn’t won a game since Week 8 of the 2016 season, going 0-10 last year and then beginning this season with a roster of only 15 players — and only dressing 13 for Friday night’s game. Still, the Railroaders came into the game ready and willing to fight, and when Wyatt Spangler broke a 28-yard run to take the ball into Troy Christian territory on the game’s first play from scrimmage, it seemed like the Eagles might be in for a battle.
“You’ve got to hand it to those kids — they are warriors,” Jones said. “They played their tails off. What they’re doing is pretty commendable. It’s a tough situation that not many guys would want to be in, and they’re sticking it out.”
But a pair of false start penalties halted Bradford’s drive and forced them to punt, immediately followed Troy Christian quarterback Caleb Twiss hitting Brady Clawson with a slant pass over the middle, springing Clawson for a 55-yard touchdown on the Eagles’ first play from scrimmage to make it a 7-0 game with 8:37 left in the first quarter … and that set the tone for the rest of the game.
The Eagles’ Josh Hivner intercepted a pass to kill Bradford’s next drive, and three plays later Evan Bryant scored untouched on a 14-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0 with 5:59 left in the quarter. The Troy Christian defense then forced a turnover on downs on its own 37, and Nathan Waltz got around the end and put on display more of that breakaway speed, breaking a 63-yard touchdown run on the first play of the Eagles’ ensuing possession to make it 21-0 with 3:29 to go in the first quarter — and turning on a running clock, which both coaches had agreed to whenever either team led by 21 points at any point in the game.
Early in the second quarter, another Bradford possession ended in a three-and-out, and Troy Christian took three plays to take it 64 yards for another touchdown, with Twiss connecting with Clawson again on a 49-yard touchdown reception to make the score 28-0 with 9:43 left in the half — which was where things remained at halftime.
“I’m really happy with the way Evan Bryant’s been playing,” Jones said. “He’s a sophomore and has only started two games, and he’s had two great games. He’s done an excellent job. Nathan Waltz is running the ball really well, and Jason Blake is doing a great job of running and blocking — he had some great blocks tonight and some really good ones last week. Those guys are starting to come together.
“Also, I think our quarterback Caleb Twiss has done a great job of running the offense. He’s a much more confident passer, and he’s done a great job for us so far.”
And in the second half, some of the younger Eagles got in on the action.
In the third, Troy Christian sophomore Charlie Knostman broke a 20-yard touchdown run to make the score 35-0 with 6:09 left in the quarter, and later, freshman Landon Rich broke a 50-yard touchdown run to put the Eagles up 42-0 with 33 seconds left until the fourth. At that point, the Eagles had scored touchdowns on six of their seven possessions on the night — the only time they failed to score was a missed 24-yard field goal attempt late in the first half.
Late in the fourth, Bradford’s Gaven Trevino intercepted a Troy Christian pass and the Railroaders pushed the ball to the Eagle 20-yard line — the deepest penetration by the Bradford offense all night. But the Eagle defense buckled down and held on to preserve the shutout.
Troy Christian goes back on the road in Week 3, traveling to Northridge, while Bradford travels to Mississinawa Valley to open Cross County Conference play.
“Northridge had a young team last year, so they’re going to have a lot more experience,” Jones said. “They’ve got a lot of speed at the skill positions, guys that can break the game open, and they’ll throw the ball around quite a bit. It’s going to be a little different than what we’ve seen the last two weeks.
“They’re going to be a challenge for us, and we’re going to have to really prepare hard to put ourselves in a position to win the game.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.