By David Fong
TROY — In a magical season the likes of which Troy football fans haven’t seen in almost a full generation, the Trojans’ 2016 campaign was filled with dozens of a unforgettable moments.
After going 2-8 in 2015 and 10-30 the previous four seasons combined, coach Matt Burgbacher’s team completed one of the most incredible turnarounds in school history, going 10-2, winning its first conference title since 2000, defeating rival Piqua, earning its first playoff berth in five years and its first playoff win since 2000.
It was all the Trojans could have hoped for and more. It was an amazing ride filled with so many moments.
For the sake of brevity, though, we tried to narrow it down to just five.
Here are the five most memorable moments from Troy’s 2016 season:
Entering the season, not many knew what to expect from the Trojans, particularly considering their recent history.
Few had doubts how good Trotwood-Madison — which has been to the playoff regional finals and beyond for pretty much the entire previous decade — would be, however. A struggling Troy team had pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Ohio the year before when it toppled Trotwood, but could the Trojans prove it wasn’t a fluke by doing it again in the season opener?
Yes, they could.
The Trojans announced to everyone they would be a force to be reckoned with in the first game of the season when they knocked off the Rams for the second year in a row.
Troy’s defense was simply incredible in holding the Rams to just six points. In every other game but one the rest of the season, Trotwood scored at least 30 points against its opponents.
The Trojans got on the board with a Jake Anderson field goal, but trailed 6-3 at halftime when storms rolled in, forcing the game to be postponed until the following morning. On a steamy Saturday, Troy took a 10-7 lead on a touchdown run by quarterback Hayden Kotwica.
Trotwood would drive into the red zone late in the game, but Troy’s defense provided a final stand. Defensive lineman Logan Hubbard got pressure on the quarterback and linebacker Will Brumfield nabbed an interception to seal the win for the Trojans.
It was the first sign Troy football was about to be back on the map.
In Week 3, an undefeated Troy team faced Troy adversity following a 90-minute bus ride to Bellefontaine, as the Chieftains jumped out to a 28-7 halftime lead.
For all intents and purposes, it looked as if the Trojans were about to be handed their first loss of the season. Rather than panic, however, Troy came storming back in the second half. A touchdown pass from Kotwica to Hayden Jackson, followed by touchdown runs by Josh Browder and Kotwica, tied the game early in the fourth quarter.
Troy would then take its first lead of the game, 35-28, on a 49-yard touchdown run by Browder. With 1:32 to play, however, Bellefontaine came back and not only scored, but completed a two-point conversion to take a 36-35 lead.
Not that it mattered, however, as just 32 seconds later, Browder scored on a 53-yard screen pass from Kotwica to win the game for the Trojans, 41-36.
The game would serve as a coming out party for Browder. After two mostly non-descript seasons for the Trojans, he had 13 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns, along with four catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Browder would go on to become one of the top running backs in Southwest Ohio during the 2016 season. This was the first huge step in his journey.
Despite being located less than 10 miles part, the Troy and Tippecanoe football teams had not played since 1984. That changed in 2016 as the Red Devils made their Greater Western Ohio Conference debut.
The wait was worth it for the Trojans, who raced to a 35-7 victory.
Troy jumped out to a 14-7 lead in the first half on touchdown runs by Kotwica and Browder. In the second half, it was all Trojans as they outscored the Red Devils 21-0 on a 50-yard touchdown run by Browder, a 31-yard TD pass from Kotwica to Matt McGillivary and a 36-yard touchdown pass from Kotwica to Zion Taylor.
Troy’s defense held Tippecanoe’s usually high-powered wing-t offense to just 182 total yards. Kotwica completed 7 of 9 passes for 141 yards, while Browder had 19 carries for 133 yards.
It had been a mostly magical season for the Trojans, who took an 8-1 record into the final week of the regular season.
All of that could have quickly come unraveled, however, had the Trojans suffered a fifth-straight loss against Piqua in the most-prolific rivalry in Ohio high school football history.
Troy wrapped up its best season in 16 years, however, defeating its bitter rival 37-14 in front of more than 9,700 fans at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium. By defeating the Indians, the Trojans accomplished a laundry list of goals as it beat Piqua for the first time since 2011, evened the all-time series between the two at 63-63-6, gave Troy its first playoff game since 2011, its first home playoff game since 2000 and, most important of all, gave Troy the GWOC American North title, its first conference crown since 2000 and first outright title since 1998.
“We did everything we wanted to do,” Burbacher said after the game. “We got everything we wanted. The kids deserve this because of how hard they worked.”
Troy took a 16-14 lead into halftime thanks to an Anderson field goal and a pair of Kotwica touchdown runs.
The Trojans scored 21 points in the first 4:30 of the third quarter to put the game away. Troy took the opening drive of the half and marched down the field, scoring on a 15-yard pass from Kotwica to Taylor.
Troy’s defense would then force and recover a fumble three plays later. On Troy’s first play following the fumble, Kotwica broke loose on a 51-yard touchdown run. Following another Piqua fumble, Browder would add a 15-yard scoring run.
From there, Troy’s defense would stymie Piqua’s offense the remainder of the game.
Kotwica, who was named the game’s MVP, completed 13 of 19 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. He also had 11 carries for 83 yards and three touchdowns. Brumfield finished with 16 tackles and a forced fumble.
Troy played its first home playoff game — and just its second home playoff game overall — since 2000 as it hosted Cincinnati Anderson in a Division II regional quarterfinal.
The fans, who had waited so long to see a home playoff game, certainly got their money’s worth as the Trojans outlasted the Redskins in a 41-35 offensive explosion.
Anderson’s pass-happy offense put up staggering numbers in wearing out the Trojan defense, running 116 plays from scrimmage, including 79 passes. The Redskins racked up 37 first downs and 687 yards in total offense, including 486 passing yards.
Most of that yardage came, however, after the Trojans had built a 34-7 lead and were one score away from forcing a running clock in a game in which defense was at a premium. Anderson would not only avoid the running clock, but would mount an incredible comeback, cutting Troy’s lead to 41-35.
With just seconds to play, Anderson drove from its own 2-yard line down to the Trojan 7. On fourth down, the Redskins dialed up a quarterback draw, which Troy’s defense — exhausted from being on the field most of the night — stuffed when linebacker John Wehrkamp stopped Jay Vohlpenhein just short of a first down at the Trojan 3.
Browder had a monster game, carrying the ball 22 times for 243 yards and two touchdowns, while also recording three catches — all touchdowns — for 114 yards. Kotwica completed 7 of 14 passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns.
It was Troy’s first playoff win since 2000.
One week later, Troy’s dream season would come to an end with a 28-21 loss to Miamisburg in the Division II regional semifinals.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong