By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
DAYTON — The beginning of the Dan Gress era for Troy football had plenty of drama and highs and lows from big momentum swings — and even some extra football.
And in the end, Troy’s Brayden Siler hit Josh Mayfield with a 20-yard touchdown pass on the Trojans’ first overtime possession to take a seven-point lead, then the defense stopped Belmont’s two-point conversion try after the Bison scored a touchdown on their overtime possession, giving Troy a thrilling 28-27 victory to open the season Thursday at Welcome Stadium.
The week leading up to the season opener was incredibly tough for Troy. On Monday, former Troy football player Zachary Schwausch, a 2018 Troy High School graduate, passed away as a result of a car accident. He was 19.
“Tonight’s game couldn’t have been more fitting,” said Gress, who won his first game as the team’s head coach. “With the recent loss of our brother Zack, before the game, all we’ve talked about as a team is how loving each other through the tough times is what’s going to define this team. And what better way to start it off than having to respond in a game like this.
“Hats off to Belmont — those kids played their hearts out, they were well coached and they gave us a great first game, a great game to start off this Ohio football season.”
It was also a breakout game for senior running back Kevin Walters, who finished with 174 yards and scored the Trojans’ three touchdowns in regulation.
“I can’t believe it. It’s crazy,” Walters said. “I’ve worked so hard for that moment and definitely got what I deserved — and it’s not over. I’ve got to still keep working and not let up, never let up. Just keep grinding.”
“That’s one kid I could not be happier for,” Gress said of Walters. “It’s kids like this who, after working hard for three years, is finally getting his payday, his reward. He’s not the only kid like that we’ve got, either. This is why we do it.”
The Trojans (1-0) began Friday’s game strong.
After the defense held Belmont to a three-and-out, Troy set out on an impressive 13-play, 65-yard drive — one that very nearly stalled at the end. After an incomplete pass in the end zone on second-and-long and a penalty on third down backed the Trojans up to third-and-19 from the Belmont 26, Walters took a handoff to the right side and found nothing but open space, taking it 26 yards for a touchdown to give Troy a 7-0 lead.
Belmont was quick to answer, though, thanks to a pair of missed tackles. On third-and-7 from the Troy 48, Adrian Cook took a wildcat direct snap and ran into a pile, only to slip out of it and break a 33-yard run to take it to the Trojan 15. And on the next play, Tavon Hardwick slipped out of a tackle and turned a short run into a 15-yard touchdown, tying the score with 1:28 left in the opening quarter.
After a pair of Troy punts, Belmont went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 33-yard line — but the Trojans weren’t fooled by the direct snap to Cook this time, stuffing the play short of the marker and taking over on downs. Three runs by Walters and a 14-yard pass from Brayden Siler to Austin Stanaford later, the Trojans had first-and-goal from the 7, and Walters punched it in from 1 yard out two plays later to put Troy back on top 14-7 with 2:32 remaining in the half.
The Bison began the final drive of the half near midfield and took the ball down to Troy’s 23-yard line with nine seconds remaining, but Elijah King sacked the quarterback on the final play of the half, and the Trojans led by seven at the break.
Walters had 89 yards at halftime on 14 carries.
The third quarter belonged to Belmont, though — specifically one lengthy drive that ate the entire quarter. The Bison marched 75 yards on 16 plays, a drive that had three third-down conversions and one clutch fourth-and-5 conversion from Troy’s 15-yard line. Quarterback Rian Reaves finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run and then ran in a two-point conversion, as well, giving Belmont a 15-14 lead with 31 seconds left in the third.
A holding penalty appeared to stall Troy’s next drive, but the fumble recovery on the punt return changed everything, with Troy retaking possession at Belmont’s 47. After a pair of big runs by sophomore Evan Jones, Kevin Walters took back over — and was thrown to the ground after the whistle, a personal foul penalty that gave Troy the ball on Belmont’s 14. Three Walters runs later, the senior punched it in for a yard out for his third touchdown of the night, making the score 21-15 Troy with eight minutes to play.
Belmont’s response was fast, though, with the Bison going 80 yards in 11 plays, with Reaves scoring on a 12-yard run with 3:26 remaining. Troy’s defense, though, stopped the two-point run try, leaving the score tied at 21-21.
“That’s the type of team they are — they’re aggressive and want to bring it to you,” Gress said. “They’re a single-wing, smash-mouth team, and they take that style in all aspects. We weren’t really surprised that they went for two.”
Troy had a chance at a game-winning field goal with 26 seconds remaining, but Siler’s 34-yard try was no good, and the game went to overtime.
“Those things are going to happen,” Siler said. “Obviously, I didn’t expect to miss the field goal, but it happened and I had to get through it. Next-play mentality — you can’t hang on to stuff like that. I just got it out of my head as soon as I could.”
It didn’t take long for Siler to bounce back from the miss, either.
Troy began overtime with the ball, and on third-and-5 Siler hit a wide-open Josh Mayfield for a 20-yard touchdown and kicked his fourth extra point of the night — the most important one yet — to put Troy up 28-21.
“I was just thinking, ‘could this be real?’” Siler said when asked what he thought when he saw Mayfield so open. “It was a great play call — we’d been running the ball all game, so they didn’t expect us to pass. Ran a wheel route, he was wide open in the end zone and we converted it.”
Belmont answered with a 4-yard shovel pass touchdown from Reaves to Joddi Burton — and the Bison went for two again. Again, though, the Trojans stuffed the conversion try, giving Troy a one-point win.
“This is what we trained for,” Gress said when asked what he was thinking as Belmont lined up for its final two-point try for the win. “We had the team in the background going wild, loving their teammates and ready to go. This was the exact moment we trained for.”
The Trojans host division rival Butler Sept. 6.
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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