By David Fong
TROY — Now you can get some sleep, Sammy.
“None … I didn’t sleep at all (Friday night),” Troy outside linebacker Sam Jackson said Saturday morning. “It’s hard to sleep after a game like that, where you stand around for a few hours, go home and have to come back the next morning. You are just thinking about all the plays they could run.”
As it turns out, the Xenia football team ran exactly what Jackson and the rest of the Troy defense was expecting Saturday morning, as the Trojans got the stop, ran out the clock on offense and needed just four total plays to wrap up a 21-14 victory over Xenia in a bizarre ending to the game. With the win, Troy improved to 2-0, while Xenia fell to 1-1.
Troy led by a score with 1:27 left to play Friday night and Xenia facing fourth-and-3 on the Trojan 43. The Trojans needed just one stop to ice the game, but before Xenia could run its final play of the game Friday, lightning appeared in the skies. After several delays, the decision to suspend the game was made around 10:30 p.m. Friday and Troy got on the buses, came home for some fitful sleep before coming back Saturday morning to wrap up the win a little more than 16 hours after the game began.
The anticipation made for an unpleasant night’s rest for all of the Trojans — up to and including Troy coach Matt Burgbacher.
“After we got back, I left the school around 2 a.m. and was back up by 6 a.m., but there wasn’t a whole lot of sleeping going on between 2:30 a.m. and 6 a.m.,” Burgbacher said. “It was well worth it, to be able to come back down here and get this one. The one thing we kept emphasizing to our kids was that we could only worry about the things we could control.”
Saturday morning, that meant finding a way to control bullish Xenia fullback Sincere Wells. Friday, Wells had carried the ball 34 times for more than 150 yards and a touchdown. As expected, he got the ball and ran into the teeth of the Troy defense, which dragged him down after a gain of just a yard as the Bucs turned over the ball and allowed Troy to run three plays and drain the clock.
“I think everyone in the stadium knew he was probably going to run the ball up the middle,” Jackson said. “But we still had to keep our responsibilities and take the quarterback or the pitch if they ran something else. But I think we were all kind of thinking No. 32 was going to get the ball.”
Not surprisingly, Jackson was in on the tackle that sealed the game. He finished the game with 26 tackles, including 19 solo stops — an incredible number, considering Xenia ran 60 plays the entire game.
“Sam Jackson had a very, very good night,” Burgacher said. “This is what we thought Sammy would bring to the position. He’s got a good nose for the football. But this wasn’t just Sammy. The entire defense played well against a very good team.”
Troy’s defense was pitching a shut out until the final minutes of the game when Xenia scored on a run by Wells, which was set up by a halfback pass, and then recovered an onside kick. Xenia’s only previous score came when a Brayden Siler pass bounced off a Troy receiver’s hands and into the waiting arms of Xenia defensive back Blayne Dudley, who raced 33 yards, untouched, in for the score to tie the game at 7-7.
Prior to that, Siler had put the Trojans on the board first. He first hooked up with slot receiver Shane Shoop on a 25-yard pass to the Xenia 39. Two plays later, Siler found a wide-open Tucker Raskay streaking down the left sideline and dropped the pass perfectly into his hands for a 36-yard touchdown, putting the Trojans up 7-0.
Siler finished the game completing 9-of-17 passes for 163 yards and the touchdown to Raskay. It was Siler’s second-career start and the first 100-yard passing game. Xenia was able to slow down — if not completely stop — Troy’s running game by putting five players at the line of scrimmage and seven total defenders in the box, forcing Siler and the Trojans to throw the ball.
Siler said as good as Troy’s running game usually is, he figured at some point this season the passing game would be called on to win a game for the Trojans.
“Every good team has to have all aspects of the game,” Siler said. “We can’t just rely on (running back) Jaydon (Culp-Bishop) to get so many yards every game. If you want to be a great team, you’ve got to be successful in doing more than just running the ball. We knew they were going to come out and pack the box and we had to be able to make plays in the passing game.”
The two teams would battle back and forth through much of the rest of the first half until Xenia fumbled the ball on an option pitch at its own 27 with just 2:39 to play in the half. Inside linebacker Austin Blair pounced on it, giving Troy the ball. Five plays later, Troy’s Sam Jackson bulled his way into the end zone from 4 yards out, putting the Trojans up 14-7 going into halftime.
Troy looked like it might be on the verge of putting the game out of reach when it needed just five plays to score another touchdown on its first drive of the second half. Siler got things rolling by hooking up with tight end Spencer Klopfenstein for 25 and 21 yards on consecutive plays.
“We knew the passing game was going to be key in this game,” said Klopfenstein, who also served up a number of pancake blocks and played defense opposite Jackson at outside linebacker. “You always have fun knowing you are going to be plays where Brayden is looking for me. I enjoy blocking, but know we are going to be throwing the ball does get me kind of excited.”
Following the long passes to Klopfenstein, Culp-Bishop scored on a 16-yard scamper to put the Trojans up 21-7. From that point on, however, Xenia was able to slow down Troy’s offense the rest of the game. Culp-Bishop finished the game with 19 carries for 89 yards, the first time he’s been held under 100 yards in six games, dating back to last season. With Troy unable to tack on an insurance score, Xenia was able to mount its comeback and set up Saturday morning’s dramatics.
“I think this is going to help us in the long run,” Jackson said. “There may come a point later this season when our backs are against the wall and things aren’t going our way. We’ll need to stay tough and play hard and we can think about this.”
For now though, Jackson and his teammates can finally get some sleep.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong