A strong running game and stout defense helps Trojans win first scrimmage and build confidence heading into the 2016 season.
Note: After nearly 20 years of writing sports of all sorts in the Miami Valley, veteran columnist Greg Billing joins Press Pros for upcoming 2016 season. We’re proud to welcome his weekly contribution to our content.
By Greg Billing
Troy – He’s a fixture on the sidelines at Memorial Stadium on football Friday nights. But away from the field, second-year Troy football coach Matt Burgbacher is still somewhat anonymous around town.
That has its advantages. When he stops for a cup of coffee at a gas station the Trojans are often a topic of conversation. When he takes his wife to dinner, the Trojans are popular table talk.
It’s a buzz he wants to keep building.
“I don’t know how many wins (we’ll have),” Burgbacher said, “but the excitement is back. We want the community to be excited. We tell the boys all the time you have a great opportunity because this town loves football. If we get it back to where we want it – competing for league titles every year, making the playoffs – that is the opportunity presented to them. They have to run with it. Are you going to make the most of it?”
The Trojans did during a steamy Saturday morning scrimmage at Memorial Stadium. Troy senior Josh Browder and sophomore Sam Jackson ripped off touchdown runs as Troy beat Reynoldsburg 13-0 in the down-and-distance portion of the scrimmage.
The Trojans scored on two of their three drives under the real-game format. The first drive reached Reynoldsburg’s 30-yard line before a turnover on downs. Browder capped the second drive – a 10-play, 80-yard drive – with a burst through the heart of the Raiders’ defense. Jackson made it 13-0 by powering up the middle for a five-yard score to end a seven-play, 45-yard drive.
Senior quarterback Hayden Kotwica also looked sharp, especially on the final drive. He found Jackson for an 18-yard pass in the flat on the first play. Then, facing a fourth-and-8 on the Raiders’ 25, Kotwica hit sophomore Spencer Klopfenstein for a 15-yard gain. Jackson scored two plays later.
“Josh is doing some good things. Sammy Jackson was a great running back today. Marc Scordia was out with an injury but Mark is going to do some great things. We feel we have four running backs right now,” Burgbacher said.
Scordia led the Trojans with 483 yards rushing on 116 carries last season and scored five touchdowns. Kotwica added 455 yards and six TDs on 132 carries. Jackson had 142 yards on 22 carries for an impressive 6.5 yards per carry.
The Trojans defense held the Raiders to a pair of three-and-out punts, then ended the scrimmage when senior Jacob Anderson jumped in front of a Raiders’ receiver for the interception. Reynoldsburg’s best drive reached Troy’s 35 before Anderson’s interception.
“I loved how our defense played. We were hoping for that last year,” Burgbacher said. “I loved the intensity, I loved the aggressiveness and I loved us getting after it.”
Still, Burgbacher cautioned his players not to get too excited or emotional over a scrimmage win – even for a team that went 2-8 last season.
“I can’t question our effort. I can’t question our heart. I can’t question any of that stuff because our kids played hard,” Burgbacher said. “We can’t be complacent. There’s no reason to be overconfident because it’s just one step in a process of where we want to go.”
The teams opened the scrimmage alternating 10-play drives starting on the 20-yard line. Troy lost a fumble on its first drive and reached midfield on its next two.
Senior Isaac Brown, junior Devon Sturgeon and sophomore Gage Forsythe highlighted a defensive line that bottled up the Raiders offense most of the scrimmage.
“Their quarterback couldn’t get comfortable. He was under retreat a few times back there,” Burgbacher said. “Reynoldsburg didn’t know where we were coming from. We don’t have a ton of size on our defensive line. We have to use our quickness and our speed to be unpredictable.
“We’re going against a Division I playoff team in Reynoldsburg,” Burgbacher said of a Raiders team that went 7-4 last season and lost to Wayne 56-14 in the opening round of the playoffs. “Our kids knew what they were up against. But that’s why you do these scrimmages so you can prepare more mentally than physically.”
Burgbacher’s team returns six starters on offense and five on defense. That the Trojans have had a full year in his system also helps the chances of improving on last season. Beating Reynoldsburg in a scrimmage only boosts that confidence.
They get another chance to gauge their progress when Troy plays Dunbar in a scrimmage 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium.
“Last year our heads were spinning early in camp just because we so much at them,” Burgbacher said. “When you’re thinking you play a step slow. Right now our kids are playing fast.
“We’ve still got 13 days until Trotwood. And that all starts Monday morning at 6:45 when we get into that weight room. We’re still 0-0. That’s the biggest thing.”