MIAMISBURG — As he stood before his team one final time, Matt Burgbacher had tears in his eyes, a lump in his throat, a pit in the bottom of his stomach and, most of all, a hole in his heart.
No wonder the Troy football coach felt incomplete.
“It’s upsetting to lose, because you spend more time with these kids than you do your own kids during the season,” Burgbacher said moments after the Troy football team’s season came to an end with a heartbreaking 38-35 loss to Cincinnati Anderson in the Division II regional semifinals Friday night at Miamisburg High School. “I feel like I know everything about these kids — in some cases, probably more than I care to know. It’s always tough at the end of the season. Only seven teams in the state get to end the year with a win. Unfortunately, we weren’t one of them.”
This year’s goodbye likely will be tougher than most.
This year’s Troy team entered the season with sky-high expectations and, for the most part, lived up to all of them. The Trojans went through the regular season 9-1, with the only loss coming against Division I Miamisburg. They defeated rival Piqua for the third year in a row in a thriller that went down to the wire. They won the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North title for the third year in a row. They qualified for the playoffs for the third year in a row — something that hasn’t happened since 1995-97 — and hosted a home game for just the fourth time in school history.
It’s been an incredible journey that began almost immediately after last season ended with offseason workouts in the Troy weightroom. It continued in the weightroom through the winter and spring into the summer, when things truly kicked off in earnest with summer camp days. Through the sweltering summer heat, they worked together with a common goal in mind — producing the best possible product on the field this fall.
They battled through intense heat and seemingly endless rain. Young men grew up and grew together. Seeing those bonds forged through both triumph and adversity is what made Friday night so difficult to watch, knowing that it will never be this way again with this same group of players.
“It’s never easy to say goodbye, but it’s going to be particularly hard with this group,” Burgbacher said. “This was an amazing group of kids.”
And the thought of saying goodbye to this senior class — the first group of seniors in Troy to win a conference title and go to the playoffs every year of their varsity careers since the late 1990s — was something that stopped Burgbacher dead in his tracks Friday.
“I can’t,” he said, his voice wavering and his eyes again welling up with tears when asked to talk about what this year’s seniors meant to the program. “I can’t. I just can’t.”
Caillou Monroe, Sam Jackson, Jaydon Culp-Bishop, Jacob Adams, Mark Summers, Blake Burton, Kobe Feltner, Shane Shoop, Noah Young, Jacob Shoop, Garrett Jones, Zach Collett, Austin Blair, Ethan Burns, Collier O’Connor, Marshall Brueckman, Zach Niswonger, Nathan Garber, Jesse Westmeyer, Brandon Hicks, Ben Merritt, Spencer Klopfenstein and Preston Jackson will never play another game for Troy.
Burgbacher had to compose himself before talking about what they’ve meant to the program.
“When I first got here in the spring of 2015, these guys were just scrawny eighth graders,” he said. “Their freshman year, we went 2-8 and they had to come into that situation as sophomores. All they’ve done is everything we’ve ever asked of them. The biggest thing that I’m most proud of is that they’ve grown into great young men. I’m very proud of that.
“The two things about this senior class was that they loved to compete and they loved to give great effort all the time. Those are two things I haven’t ever been able to question with this group. They competed every day and their leadership was outstanding. You’ve got to graduate a senior class every year; it’s tough. It’s tough losing this one. This is going to sting for awhile.”
It may be little while before he feels whole again.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong