By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Throughout the first five games, the Troy football team’s approach to dealing with mistakes was simple — just don’t make any.
In Week 6 against Stebbins, that wasn’t an option as the Trojans committed as many turnovers in the first half of that game as it had in the entire first half of the season with four. But Troy also showed that it could overcome those mistakes, maintaining a seven-point lead at halftime in spite of those turnovers and playing a flawless second half to seal a 42-7 victory over the Indians Friday at Troy Memorial Stadium.
“It was just one of those things. We started out with two fumbles and two interceptions in that first half,” Troy coach Dan Gress said. “But a positive that we can take away from that is that our defense was able to step up and respond to those sudden changes of possession.”
Troy (5-1, 4-0 Miami Valley League Miami Division) had four turnovers entering the night, with three of them coming in Week 3’s loss at Cincinnati Turpin. In Week 5, the Trojans committed one early turnover and fell behind against Greenville before rallying for a 35-7 win. In every other game, Troy avoided committing any turnovers.
Stebbins forced four turnovers in the first half Friday, though, but Troy still held a 14-7 halftime lead and never trailed in the game.
• Big Stops
A big reason for that was, once again, crucial stops by the Troy defense on fourth-down plays.
With the Trojans holding that 14-0 lead late in the second quarter, Stebbins’ Marvelous Rutledge broke a 46-yard run and was caught at the Troy 3-yard line to set up first-and-goal. The Troy defense stopped him on three straight runs, though, setting up fourth-and-goal from the 5, and on fourth down a quartet of Trojans sacked Stebbins quarterback Nate Keller for an 11-yard loss, an emphatic exclamation point on a critical goal-line stand.
With the game already decided early in the fourth quarter, the Indians knocked on the door again, trailing 35-7 but with a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Three straight incomplete passes and another fourth-down sack later, though, the Trojan defense had its second goal-line stand of the game.
“Some of the coaches have joked that that’s starting to become a theme for us — and that’s fine with us,” Gress said. “We’ll take that. It’s that mentality on defense of bend but don’t break, make them drive the entire length of the field and give them nothing. I like the mentality that we’re getting on third- and fourth-and-short.”
It’s already been a key part of Troy’s three-game winning streak.
Against Tippecanoe in Week 4, a key fourth-down stop helped propel the Trojans to a 14-7 win. And in Week 5 against Greenville, another fourth-down stop helped Troy rally from a 7-0 deficit and take control in that win.
• Big Nights
And on the other side of the ball, Kevin Walters and Brayden Siler both bounced back from early mistakes to post huge numbers on offense.
The two top rushers in the MVL Miami Division, Walters had 213 yards on 17 carries and Siler had 168 yards on 18 carries, both with a pair of rushing touchdowns. Siler also went 9 for 18 passing for 166 yards and two touchdowns after those two early picks.
Walters currently leads the MVL Miami with 714 rushing yards, piling up 93 of them on one possession late in Friday’s game. He broke a 72-yard run and then finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run that made the score 42-7 at the time and iced the game.
“It’s great to see everything that Kevin gets,” Gress said. “It all comes from his hard work throughout the week. It’s nice to see him get the ball on key plays and then get rewarded for all of that work. We ask him to carry the ball, we ask him to block, we ask him to run routes — and he does everything we ask of him at 100 percent full speed.
“It was awesome to see him break that 72-yard run. He’s been one missed tackle or one cut or one little seam away from turning a 20-yarder into one of those all season. It was nice to see him break one of those off — and hopefully that continues in the final four games of the season.”
Siler is right behind Walters in second in the MVL Miami with 628 rushing yards on 108 carries as Troy bulldozed its way to 384 rushing yards against Stebbins on Friday and piled up 550 total yards of offense to the Indians’ 218. Siler is also third in the division in passing yards now with 591 on the year.
“Our No. 1 goal coming into any game is to establish the run,” Gress said. “Our offensive line is getting better and better at what we do, and that’s starting to pay off. You’re starting to see that on Friday nights now.
“Our team has to be able to respond to adversity, and that starts with our senior leaders. And when it comes to Brayden, I had no doubt that he would respond to those early interceptions. You could see it as he came off the sideline after those plays — he was ready to go back out right there and get back at it.”
• Big Weeks
Friday’s win was only Troy’s second home game of the season, and the Trojans are already heading back out on the road for a critical MVL crossover game Friday night at former division rival Sidney.
Sidney was a division rival of Troy’s throughout the two teams’ time in the Greater Western Ohio Conference. In the MVL, Sidney (2-4, 1-2 MVL Valley) has moved to the Valley Division, while Troy plays in the Miami Division. But Gress and company don’t expect that to change the intensity of the matchup at all.
“It’s always a great atmosphere when we play Sidney,” he said. “Their fans are always in it, and we know that no matter what the records are, we’re going to get their best shot. We know they’ll be ready to play.”
Sidney also boasts the MVL’s top rusher in E.J. Davis, who will enter Friday night’s play with 718 yards on 84 carries. And while quarterback Ryan Dunham has thrown for 479 yards on the season, it very well could be a strength-against-strength matchup on the ground.
Sidney was shut out in back-to-back weeks, 29-0 against Piqua and 20-0 against Xenia, before defeating Fairborn 24-17 in Week 6 to build momentum heading into this week’s showdown. Last year, Troy held off Sidney for a 38-19 victory for its third straight win in the series.
But with West Carrollton’s shocking 39-34 victory over Piqua giving the Trojans sole possession of the MVL Miami lead, Troy also knows the importance of every last one of its final four games of the season.
“We tell the kids never to think that we’re unbeatable, and that no team is ever just going to give it to us,” Gress said. “We have to earn everything we get every single week.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
©2019 Miami Valley Today, all rights reserved.