By Josh Brown
TROY — Four one-play touchdown drives. A defensive score. A whopping 35 points in one quarter. A running clock in the first half.
Just another strange night at Eagle Stadium — but a good one for the home team.
Fighting through a constant cold drizzle, Troy Christian maintained its composure during a wild first half, while visiting Hillcrest Academy had trouble holding onto the football. The Eagles capitalized on every mistake, too, building a 27-point lead after one quarter and pulling away from the Rams for a 56-8 victory on a surreal Senior Night.
“I was really proud of the way our guys came out,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Jones said. “It was good to send the seniors out in their last home game with a win. Everybody played real well, and the seniors felt good about what they did. Hillcrest had a lot of speed, and I thought we handled it pretty well. We kept them contained.”
With the win, Troy Christian — which scored 50-plus points for the second week in a row — won its fourth straight and improved to 7-1 on the season, snapping Hillcrest Academy’s (2-5) two-game winning streak in the process. Entering the night, the Eagles sat in seventh place in the Division VI, Region 24 playoff standings, with the top eight teams moving on to Week 11.
In Week 9, Troy Christian faces its biggest test yet, traveling to undefeated Lima Central Catholic — which, if the season had ended before Friday’s play, would have been the No. 2 seed and the Eagles’ opponent in the playoffs. Needless to say, the implications in the game are enormous.
“This sets us up for where we wanted to be, going up against undefeated LCC in Week 9,” Jones said. “A chance to win and make the playoffs. We wanted to be here. After a tough loss to Lucas, a game we thought we should have won, we talked about how we’ve got to be determined, how we’ve got to get our minds to where we refuse to lose and make sure that doesn’t happen again. Ever since then, led by the seniors, they’ve shown a good example. They’re focused and determined.”
Friday night, it didn’t take long for Troy Christian to seize control.
After a big opening kickoff return by Nathan Waltz put the Eagles in Rams territory, senior quarterback Caleb Twiss finished off the four-play, 49-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown sneak to put Troy Christian on the board with 10:31 remaining in the quarter. The unorthodox Rams didn’t back down, though, connecting on a 40-yard screen pass for a touchdown and then running in a two-point conversion to take an 8-7 lead over the Eagles with 8:24 still on the clock.
That was the last time the game was close, though.
Troy Christian set out on its longest drive of the game — seven plays — with Jason Blake finishing off the 60-yard drive on a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 5:07 left in the quarter. Blake then ran in the two-point try, stretching over the goal-line with one arm to put the Eagles up 15-8.
Hillcrest then threw an incomplete pass on a lateral that was ruled a fumble, and Troy Christian covered the football as the Ram 15-yard line. On the next play, Waltz ran the ball around the left side and into the end zone to make the score 22-8 at the 3:53 mark of the first. And on the second play of Hillcrest’s next possession, Micah Trimbach scooped up a fumbled pitch and rumbled 18 yards for a defensive touchdown to put Troy Christian up 28-8 with 3:28 on the clock.
The Rams fumbled twice during a three-and-out on their next possession, including fumbling it away on a punt attempt on fourth down to give Troy Christian the ball on the 17, and Twiss hit Brady Clawson on a 17-yard slant over the middle on the first play to give the Eagles a 35-8 lead with 1:54 remaining … still in the opening period.
Things slowed down a little in the second quarter, with the Eagles being forced to punt on their first possession but pinning the Rams back on their own 11. And on second-and-15 from the 6, Ethan Twiss picked off a Hillcrest pass and returned it to the 5-yard line — setting up a 5-yard Harrison Hartman touchdown run on the very next play to make it 42-8 with 6:55 until halftime.
The Eagles then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and took four plays to go 27 yards for a score, with senior Josh Hivner scoring on a 10-yard run to make the score 49-8 with 4:17 to go in the half — and both coaches agreed to turn the running clock on early per the OHSAA mercy rule.
“Our defensive line played pretty well, pressured their quarterback, put them in stressful situations and they made some mistakes — and we were able to capitalize,” Jones said. “A couple fumble recoveries, an interception — we were really happy with the way we handled them on defense.
“Offensively, same thing. We were able to run the ball effectively. Harrison, Jason Blake and Nathan Waltz did a great job, and the offensive line did a fantastic job again.”
Hillcrest had one final chance before the half after a pair of pass interference penalties on the Eagles, but a bad snap on the final play led to another turnover and allowed the Eagles to take a 41-point lead into the locker room. And in the second half, both quarters were only eight minutes long and the running clock remained on, with a 30-yard touchdown run by Landon Rich with 3:40 to go in the game the only score of the half.
Now Troy Christian travels to Lima Central Catholic with one final chance to make a push for the postseason.
“We’ve said that next week is the first week of the playoffs for us, pretty much,” Jones said. “If we lose, we’re probably out. Win or you’re done. We’ve got a really tough test against LCC, and we’re going to work hard this week to get ourselves into a position where we can get a win.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.