It didn’t start how the Troy football team wanted.
It certainly didn’t end the way the Trojans had in mind, either.
In between, however, it was mostly magic for Troy, which captured a second straight Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division title, put together a seven-game winning streak, knocked off a state-ranked team, defeated a longtime rival and earned a trip to the Division II playoffs for the second year in a row.
In a season full of memories — ones many players, coaches and fans will carry with them for many years to come — it’s sometimes hard to remember all of them. It’s even harder to select the best of the bunch.
But that’s not going to stop me from trying.
As the Troy football team wrapped up another stellar season last week, let’s take a look back at the five most-compelling moments of the 2017 season:
5. The end of the beginning
While it may seem odd to include a loss in any list of Troy’s most memorable moments of 2017, this one is memorable not as much for what it meant that night, but the future to which it led.
Yes, Bellefontaine beat Troy 30-22 to drop the Trojans to 1-2 in Week 3, but it would also lead to a remarkable turnaround that saw the Trojans win their next seven games in a row. One of the key moments of the night was the emergence of junior running back Jaydon Culp-Bishop, who would finish the night with 27 carries for 211 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown run.
That performance certainly went a long way toward changing Troy’s philosophy on offense. Up until that point, Culp-Bishop wasn’t even the Trojans’ starting running back, having carried the ball just 23 times for 79 yards in Troy’s first two games combined.
Troy also was relying more heavily on the pass the first part of the season, putting the ball in the air 20 or more times each of its first two games. From the Bellefontaine game moving forward, Troy would not attempt 20 passes in a single game the rest of the season.
That night, Troy defined what type of team it would be — a run-first team that played bone-crunching defense. That philosophical switch would go a long way toward setting the tone for the rest of Troy’s season.
4. Beating the ‘Burg
Following the loss to Bellefontaine, Troy rebounded with a 38-6 win over Fairborn. That sent 2-2 Troy into a Week 5 contest with Miamisburg. At the time, Miamisburg was 3-1 and considered a strong contender for a Division I playoff spot. It was also the same Miamisburg team that had handed Troy its only two losses — one during the regular season and one in the Division II regional semifinals — the year before.
Miamisburg’s wing-t offense came into the game averaging 303.5 rushing yards per contest.
To put it simply, Troy’s defense shut down the Vikings’ vaunted run game. Troy held Miamisburg to just 21 rushing yards on 30 attempts — an average of 0.7 yards per carry. Troy also held Tony Clark — who would go on to rush for 1,000 yards in 2017 — to just 28 yards on 14 attempts.
Still, though, thanks in large part to an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble on the ensuing drive, Troy found itself down 7-0 and facing a potential two-score deficit early in the game. Free safety Zach Boyer turned the tide of the game, however, when he picked off a pass following the Trojan fumble, returning it from the Troy 25 to the Miamisburg 15. Troy would score on a Jackson TD run to tie the game.
From there, the Trojans never looked back, building a 31-7 lead and holding on for a 31-21 victory. Culp-Bishop finished with 33 carries for 241 yards and a touchdown.
That game — which preceded the start of GWOC North play —may have been the turnaround moment in the season for the Trojans. It gave Troy a huge boost in confidence heading into the North schedule, which the Trojans would carry with them the rest of the season.
3. Comeback in the park
Following the win over Miamisburg, Troy came out flat the next week.
Down 13-0 at halftime to county rival Tippecanoe in the GWOC North opener, the Trojans staged their biggest comeback of the season, using an opportunistic defense to set up the offense in a 28-13 victory in just the second meeting between the two teams as conference foes.
After Troy’s offense struggled to get much of anything going early, its special teams provided a spark immediately in the second half when Keiran Williams forced a fumble on the kickoff and kicker Brayden Siler pounced on it in Red Devils’ territory. Eight plays later, Sam Jackson scored Troy’s first points of the game on a 7-yard touchdown run. Later in the half, Troy’s defense forced another punt from deep in Red Devil territory, allowing Troy to take over at the Red Devil 31, which set up another Jackson touchdown run.
Interceptions by Zach Boyer and Derek McDonagh would set up touchdown runs by Jackson and Shane Shoop. All four of Troy’s touchdowns came on drives set up by Troy’s special teams and defense; all four of Troy’s scores came off drives that started on Tippecanoe’s side of the field.
2. Going the distance
It may have been the most-hyped game of the season as Troy, the defending North champion, took on undefeated and state-ranked Sidney in Week 8. The Yellowjackets — ranked No. 4 in the Division II state poll at the time — were off to their best start in 40 years.
Sidney also boasted future Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser, who was rewriting the school record books and well on his way to rushing for 2,000 yards. In fact, all he needed to do was rush for 100 yards against Troy to break the 2,000-yard barrier. That seemed like a safe bet, considering in his seven previous games, he had rushed for 205, 321, 304, 413, 205, 186 and 266 yards.
It wasn’t going to happen on this night, however.
Troy’s defense turned in yet another gem, holding Bowser to just 68 yards — and no scores — on 24 carries. In two years, Troy became the only defense to hold Bowser to less than 100 yards rushing — and did it twice, having held him to 51 yards on 26 carries in 2016.
Culp-Bishop stole the show, carrying the ball 33 times for 229 yards, including a 99-yard touchdown scamper that tied a school record. Jackson added three touchdown carries and Shoop returned a kickoff 75 yards for a score and recovered a fumble in the end zone for another score.
Troy thoroughly dominated from start to finish in the 48-21 victory.
All told, Troy’s defense forced five Sidney turnovers, three fumbles and two interceptions.
Although there still were two weeks left to play in the season, this game would essentially serve as the GWOC North title game, as it would be Sidney’s only loss of the year.
1. Breaking the tie
Going into this year’s game, Troy and Piqua had played 132 times.
This year, they decided to play it underwater.
OK, not really, but it sure felt that way as a heavy rain started well before kickoff and lasted the entire contest. It made passing the ball mostly an afterthought and turned the field into a muddy bog. All of that would play mostly into Troy’s favor, as it helped ground Piqua’s potent air attack and set up a perfect night for Culp-Bishop, who finished the game with 33 carries for a career-high 254 yards.
Troy’s defense completely shut down Piqua’s offense, holding the Indians to just nine first downs and 118 yards in total offense, including just 64 passing yards. It was the only game all season in which Piqua threw for less than 100 yards. Piqua’s lone score in the 32-6 loss actually came on a fumble return by its defense.
Sam Jackson added three touchdown runs and Joah Schricker recovered a fumble in the end zone to cap off the scoring.
With the win, Troy wrapped up an outright GWOC North title and took a 64-63-6 lead in the historic rivalry between the two schools.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong
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