MIAMISBURG — The Troy football team awoke Saturday morning to find the grass was just a little greener, the birds were singing just a little sweeter and the sun was shining brighter than it had since last season ended.
It’s amazing what a difference one game can make.
With a host of starters returning from a team that won 10 games, won the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division and reached the Division II regional semifinals, many expected the Trojans to pick up right where they left off last season. If anything, there were some who expected the Trojans to be even better than they were the year prior.
Then the Trojans opened with a humiliating 48-0 loss to Trotwood-Madison. It was as if everything Troy had accomplished in going from a 2-8 team in 2015 to a 10-2 team in 2016 had just evaporated. To hear some tell it, the remaining Trojans who hadn’t graduated had somehow forgotten how to play football over the winter.
The grumbling continued in a lackluster 28-6 win over Xenia and kicked into high gear after falling behind early and never catching up to Bellefontaine in a 30-22 loss that left the Trojans 1-2, having lost as many games in three weeks as it lost in 12 weeks last season.
“We knew what people were saying,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “We knew a lot of people were saying after Week 1, and again after Week 3, that this was not the same Troy team as it was last year. And you know what? It’s not the same team as it was last year. It took this team time to truly develop.”
The Trojans showed signs of life in a 38-6 over winless Fairborn last week, but most figured they would come back down to Earth Friday when they had to take on Division I power Miamisburg, the same team that handed Troy both of its losses last season and had won the last six meetings between the two teams. Toppling the Vikings — especially with this Troy team — seemed like an impossible task.
Except, of course, when the Trojans did just that Friday night, jumping out to a jaw-dropping 31-7 lead going into the fourth quarter and then holding off a late Miamisburg charge for a 31-21 victory.
All of a sudden, the possibilities for the Trojans seem just as endless now as they did when they opened camp July 31. Everything is in front of Troy as it begins the defense of its GWOC North title this Friday against its five division opponents to close out the second half of the season. Win out and the Trojans will keep their title — Troy hasn’t won back-to-back conference titles since a four-year run of championships from 1995-98 — and pretty much assure itself a return trip to the playoffs.
And, for the first time since the preseason, that doesn’t seem like nearly such a far-fetched proposition. That’s not saying the Trojans are playing their best football just yet, or even should be considered the favorites to win the North, especially considering state-ranked Sidney is undefeated five games into the season. But the stunning win over Miamisburg proves the Trojans can compete. They need to be in the conversation. One win has given this team the legitimacy — and the confidence — it may have been lacking up to this point.
“It’s monumental,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said of the victory. “We wanted to be playing our best football at this point in the season. Are we were we need to be yet? No. But I feel like we just took a huge step forward. We played our best game of the season against one of the toughest opponents we’ll see this season. Now we’ve got to keep that going. That’s the challenge for us. We’ve got to keep working every single day to get better.”
There’s still plenty to work on — but there’s also plenty of evidence to suggest the Trojans are getting there. Will they accomplish what they set out to do before the season started? Only time will tell.
But for now, there’s hope. It’s a hope that maybe wasn’t there four weeks ago.
That much is easy enough to see — as is usually the case when the sun is shining brighter.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong