By David Fong
TIPP CITY — It’s safe to say Derek McDonagh isn’t the fastest or most athletic defensive back in the Greater Western Ohio Conference.
It’s also fair to say he won’t have as lengthy a list of offers to play college football as many of his conference counterparts.
What the Troy football team’s senior cornerback is, however, is one of the most consistent — and underrated — players in the GWOC. Whether it be on defense or special teams, all McDonagh does is make plays for the Trojans. He’s seemingly never out of position and has a knack for coming up big — ironic, considering he’s only 5-foot-7 and 158 pounds — when the Trojans need it most.
“Derek has been great for us this year in multiple areas,” Troy coach Matt Burgbacher said. “As a junior last year and even this year, other teams teams underrate him as a player — until they play us and actually play against him and see he is a very good football player. He may not be the biggest or fastest out there, but he plays with confidence and heart and that will take you a long way.”
McDonagh was at it again for the Trojans in Friday’s 28-13 GWOC American North win over Miami County rival Tippecanoe, making plays in just about every way possible.
On defense, he recorded four tackles and picked off a pass he returned 37 yards to the Red Devils’ 33, setting up the Trojans final touchdown of the night. On special teams, his blocked field goal in the first half helped the Trojans stay within striking distance, as the Red Devils went into halftime with only a 13-0 lead. He also returned a pair of punts for 25 total yards.
Changing the game
Troy’s defense was able to force Tippecanoe out of its usual offensive gameplan Friday, which made all the difference in the second half.
The Red Devils came into Friday’s game relying almost exclusively on their wing-t ground game, having averaged just 5.2 pass attempts per game in their previous five contests. While the Red Devils were able to run the ball in chunks in the first half, Troy put the clamps on in the second half, holding Tippecanoe without a 100-yard rusher for the first time all season.
That meant Tippecanoe was forced to take to the air, throwing the ball 13 times in the game. The Red Devils’ previous high for pass attempts in a game was seven. Unaccustomed to throwing the ball that much, Tippecanoe completed three passes to its own players — including a 49-yard touchdown pass from Brad Detwiller to Clay Barhorst in the first half — but also threw just as many to Troy defenders, as the Trojans picked off three passes.
In addition to McDonagh’s interception, which set up a touchdown run by Shane Shoop, Zach Boyer’s interception and 18-yard return set up the go-ahead touchdown run by Sam Jackson early in the fourth quarter. Jackson also recorded an interception of his own with less than two minutes to play to ice the game.
Troy’s Keiran Williams also forced a fumble on the second-half kickoff, which kicker Brayden Siler recovered. That set up Jackson’s first touchdown run, which cut Tippecanoe’s lead to 13-7 early in the third quarter.
Jackson — who has played primarily on defense this season — saw extended duty on offense Friday.
He finished with 12 carries for 75 yards and three touchdowns, all of which came in the second half. His previous high was six carries for 74 carries against Xenia the second week of the season.
“We like to use Sammy in the red zone, and when we got down there on the first drive in the second half, he was running hard and had great vision,” Burgbacher said. “Once we got the lead, we wanted to keep pounding the rock and with the way Sammy was running, we went with him.”
‘Peaches’ on the shelf
Massive Trojan lineman Gage “Peaches” Forsythe tried to play Friday on an ankle he injured last week against Miamisburg, but was only able to make it through Troy’s first series on offense — which lasted just two plays because of a fumble — before he was forced to the sidelines.
That left two gaping holes on the offensive and defensive lines for Troy as the 6-foot-1, 310-pound Forsythe has been Troy’s starter at right tackle and noseguard all season. With Forsythe out, senior Zach Schwausch — a converted linebacker — got the start at noseguard for the Trojans, finishing the game with a pair of tackles.
On the offensive line, senior guard Kameron Block moved out to tackle, while senior Logan Hubbard played in Block’s spot at guard. Hubbard — Troy’s starter at returning starter at noseguard until he was hobbled by a broken foot the last week of summer camp — also saw time at noseguard Friday. Hubbard had a tackle on defense.
Tippecanoe had a pair of linebackers reach double digits in tackles against the Trojans. Junior Mason Gostomsky finished with a career-high 13 tackles to lead Tippecanoe. Senior Matt Garber finished with 12 tackles. It was the third time this season Garber has finished with 10 or more tackles in a game.
Before the game, Troy defensive coordinator Charlie Burgbacher was honored for his achievements as head coach at Tippecanoe.
Charlie — Matt’s father — was presented with a Tippecanoe helmet listing all of his accomplishments in his 26 years as the Red Devils’ head coach. From 1989 until 2015, when he left to join his son at Troy, the elder Burgbacher won a school-record 186 games and six conference titles, made 11 playoff appearances — including 10-straight from 2005-2014 — and had two teams finish the regular season 10-0.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong