By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — A fourth straight outright division title. A fourth straight trip to the playoffs for the first time in the program’s history.
With all of those supposedly-big-ticket items at stake, first-year Troy football head coach Dan Gress knew exactly what actually mattered.
“Sure, we mentioned the playoffs once to the boys this week, because we wanted them to know what was at stake But after that, it was all about Piqua,” he said. “Because 20 years from now, they’re not getting asked about the playoffs. They’re getting asked ‘what did you do against Piqua?’”
The Trojan seniors can answer with “we never lost.”
Senior quarterback Brayden Siler ran for almost 200 yards and four touchdowns — three of them in a big second half — and fellow senior Kevin Walters added almost 150 rushing yards and another score as Troy scored 28 unanswered points after the break to put away a convincing 35-9 victory over archrival Piqua Friday at Troy Memorial Stadium, the team’s fourth straight win over the Indians.
With Siler’s unofficial totals on the night, he becomes the first Troy quarterback ever to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. And, with Walters breaking the 1,000-yard barrier last week, it is the first time the Trojans have had two players rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season since Dave Levorchick and William Block did it in 2000. After the game, Siler was named the Marine Corps Great American Rivalry Series Player of the Game.
“I think it’s just a testament to the hard work that we’ve put in, really, over the last six years we’ve been together,” Siler said. “Anytime I can come out here and play with my brothers, it’s special. And in the second half tonight, we really played to our ability and showed what we can do.”
The win allowed Troy to finish the regular season 8-2 overall and 7-1 in the Miami Valley League Miami Division, giving the Trojans the outright division championship as Piqua finished 5-5 and 5-3 in division play. Troy also clinched a home game in Week 11 in the Division II, Region 7 playoffs.
It was also Gress’ first win as the team’s head coach over the Indians after the past few years as an assistant coach.
“It doesn’t feel any different than before, because these are the kids that did it,” he said. “These are the seniors that earned it. My gosh, did they earn it this week — and they’ve earned it all four years, too. And it’s a credit to all the work they put in in the offseason.”
Troy had chances to take control early, but Piqua’s defense came up with a pair of big stops to keep the game scoreless. The Trojans missed a 25-yard field goal on their first possession and then turned it over on downs on Piqua’s 30-yard line to start the second quarter. But after holding the Indians to a quick three-and-out, Troy went 57 yards on eight plays, with Siler converting a fourth-and-1 from Piqua’s 20 by breaking a 17-yard run up the middle and then scoring a 3-yard touchdown on the next play. A penalty pushed the point-after attempt back 15 yards, but Siler kicked a 35-yarder to give Troy a 7-0 lead with 3:31 left in the first half.
Piqua responded, though — aided by a late hit early in the ensuing drive and a fourth-down pass interference call in Troy territory. In the end, on fourth-and-30, backup freshman quarterback Bradey Ouhl, hooked up with Dylan Chaney for a 33-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 7-7 with :14 on the clock. Braiden Strayer then intercepted a Siler hail mary attempt, and the Indians appeared to have all the momentum heading into the second half.
The Trojans did something about that.
“This is an emotional game, and it’s a physical game. And the most physical team always wins,” Gress said. “That first half, we were a little too focused on them and not ourselves. That was the biggest difference maker in the second half, just worrying about ourselves.”
“In the first half, we knew we weren’t playing to our potential,” Siler said. “In the locker room, the coaches told us ‘this isn’t how you know you can play. And this is you seniors’ last time to go out and show what you can do against this team.’ And we really took that to heart, came out and marched down the field.”
And, after only rushing the ball for 102 yards in the first half, the Troy offensive line took over the game.
“In the second half, we were more physical than they were,” Troy senior center Riley Hubbard said. “We took it to them — and it wasn’t given to us. They gave us a tough fight, but after halftime, we focused on ourselves and our assignments.”
“They’re at the root of everything. That’s where it all starts,” Siler said of the offensive line. “In the weight room, on the field, they don’t get much recognition for what they do, but they continue to work and support everybody. It’s amazing to watch everybody come together.”
And Siler and Walters began to chew up ground in chunks because of it.
On the opening possession of the third, Siler broke a 58-yard touchdown run, diving for the end zone to break the plane to avoid being caught from behind at the end of the play to give Troy a 14-7 lead with 10:41 left in the quarter. And after a three-and-out by Piqua, Troy went 50 yards in seven plays, with Walters staying on his feet after being hit at the line and getting in for an 8-yard touchdown to put Troy up 21-7 at the 6:18 mark of the third.
The teams traded turnovers — a fumble recovery by Troy’s Austin Johnson and an interception by Piqua’s Aidan Meyer — but an interception by Troy senior Tucker Raskay gave the ball back to Troy, and Siler capped off a 45-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown run to put the Trojans up 28-7 with 8:41 left in the game.
Siler added one more touchdown run, a 14-yarder with 4:43 to play, and then senior Weston Smith intercepted a pass at the Troy 1-yard line to kill off Piqua’s next drive and all but seal the win. Jerell Lewis recorded a safety on the next play to make it 35-9 with 1:00 left, and Troy ran out the clock from there.
“It feels so great,” Smith said. “We’ve been stoked all week for this game, and we came out and played our best tonight. It feels great to sweep them all four years.”
“We’ve said to them all year, ‘How are you going to respond to adversity?’ And that’s tough, 7-7 at halftime,” Gress said. “You know Piqua was riding high going into the locker room, but how these boys responded was always the key this year, and they responded tonight.
“Your best players have to play their best to win games like this. And that’s what ours did tonight.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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