By David Fong
TROY — The Troy football team didn’t look like a team that knew how to win a close game Friday.
Hard to fault the Trojans entirely, however — for the most part, they don’t.
Just two games removed from a series of blowout losses in a 1-9 season last year, the Trojans let one slip away Friday at Troy Memorial Stadium, surrendering a 19-7 fourth quarter lead as Cincinnati Northwest pulled out a 28-26 victory, spoiling Troy’s hall of fame night and handing Troy a stinging defeat.
With the loss, Troy fell to 1-1, while Northwest improved to 2-0.
“As hard as it is to say it, we’ve still got to learn how to win games,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “It hurts to say that. When we’re up 19-7, we’ve got to close that game out.”
After a two-hour lightning delay to start the game, the contest finally kicked off shortly after 9 p.m. On its first drive, Northwest made it look like it was going to make short work of the Trojans, driving 70 yards in just seven plays to go up 7-0 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Devonte Faulknor.
For the next two quarters, however, the Trojans simply dominated the Knights, building a 13-7 halftime lead and then going up 19-7 on the opening drive of the second half.
Troy would tie the game at 7-7 in the first quarter after the Trojan defense stuffed Northwest at its own 36 on fourth-and-one. The Trojans took over and after runs by Elijah Pearson and Marc Scordia, Troy quarterback Hayden Kotwica hooked up with Luke Robinson on a perfectly placed 20 yard touchdown.
Kotwica was quite literally perfect in the first half, completing all six of his pass attempts for 89 yards, adding a 29 yard touchdown pass to Hayden Jackson just before halftime. Troy’s extra point was blocked — the Trojans would also bounce one off the uprights later in the game — which would prove big later in the game.
“We talk a lot about the little things taking care of the big things,” Burgbacher said. “A snap here, a snap there — it wasn’t one or two or three things; it was a lot of little things that would add up for us.”
Still, Troy would take a 13-7 lead into halftime.
The Trojans would stretch that lead to 19-7 to open the second half. After Jackson returned the kickoff to the Northwest 40, Trojan tailback Elijah Pearson — who missed the first game of the season with an ankle injury, but returned Friday with 17 carries for 74 yards — got most of the carries before capping off the drive with a 1-yard run with 8:18 left to play in the third quarter.
From there, however, Northwest dominated the majority of the game.
The Knights would drive to the Trojan 13 on the ensuing drive, but Troy’s defense would stiffen, forcing Northwest to settle for a field goal attempt. Troy blocked the field goal, knocking the ball into the Knight backfield. With the ball laying on the field, nearly all of Northwst’s players had given up on the play.
Rather than scoop up the ball and run for what seemingly would have been a touchdown, however, Troy fell on it at its own 26, ending the play.
“Instead of scooping it and probably scoring, we fall on the ball,” Burgbacher said. “But the good thing is, all the mistakes we made are ones we can fix.”
That would prove to be the turning point in the game. After Troy’s drive went nowhere, the Trojans were forced to punt and Northwest got the ball near midfield.
Faulknor — who had been largely bottled up after Northwest’s first drive — gained momentum in the second half, doing most of the heavy lifting on the drive and capping it off with a 3-yard touchdown run to cut Troy’s lead to 19-14 early in the fourth quarter. He would finish the game with 23 carries for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“We knew coming in their big running back was tough,” Burgbacher said. “And they don’t two-platoon anybody.”
Troy would punt on its next drive and had the Knights in a third-and-nine situation near midfield. That’s when Northwest quarterback Brandon Shelton launched a 54-yard scoring strike to David Martin — who had inexplicably gotten wide open 10 yards behind the Trojan secondary — giving the Knights a 22-19 lead with 6:24 left to play.
Northwest would extend that lead to 28-19 when Shelton hooked up with Brandon Mueller on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 2:12 left to play.
Troy would manage to cut the lead to 28-26 when Kotwica completed a 15-yard scoring strike to Robinson with just two ticks left on the clock. Kotwica finished his night completing 14 of 20 passes for 189 yards, while Robinson had five catches for 98 yards.
It was too little, too late, however, as Northwest fell on the onside kick as the clock expired.
Now, Burgbacher said, he’ll find out what his team is made of in the face of such a painful defeat.
“Absolutely, we are going to find out what they are made of,” he said. “Now we’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. This week, we let one slip away. The positive thing is that our kids competed and they left it all out there on the field. This doesn’t end our season — we’ve still got eight weeks left to play. We are moving in the right direction.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong