Sitting at a crossroads facing a 1-2 record, the Trojans stayed the course and rattled off their fourth straight win with a 36-20 victory over Butler.
As coach Matt Burgbacher told his team, the season could go one of two ways: they could be patient and let the process play out or they could point fingers.
Perseverance won. And so have the Trojans.
Troy (5-2 overall and 2-0 GWOC American North) won its fourth straight game – showing that same fortitude that now has them in the division title hunt – with a 36-20 victory against the Butler Aviators (3-4, 1-1) on Friday. Troy led 22-0 midway through the second quarter. That lead was slashed to 22-20 early in the fourth quarter.
Troy’s win on Friday and Sidney’s 49-42 victory over Tippecanoe on Thursday night set up a showdown in the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North. Sidney is 7-0 overall and 2-0 in the division.
Against Butler, the Aviators’ first line of defense featured defensive ends Quentin Glover (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) and Caiden Serrer (6-3, 235) and defensive tackles Charles Ellington (6-5, 285) and K.J. Dorsey (6-2, 413). They slowed down Troy’s rushing attack for most of the game. But just like Burgbacher preached, the Trojans finally broke through.
Butler grabbed the momentum with a 92-yard toss from quarterback Mason Motter to speedster Bryant Johnson with 10:40 left in the game. Johnson raced past the secondary and ran under Motter’s pass at the 50-yard line and sprinted the rest of the way untouched.
Troy responded with Matt McGillivary’s 64-yard kickoff return to the Butler 29-yard line. Five plays later Jaydon Culp-Bishop put the Trojans up 29-20 with a 10-yard touchdown run. McGillivary kept the drive alive with a 27-yard grab from quarterback Sam Coleman on 3rd-and-18 from Butler’s 37-yard line.
“Big-time players step up in big-time moments. They made a play,” Burgbacher said. “We needed someone to step up. Sam had time to sit back and read the defense. He made a great throw and Matt made a great catch. We’re not dependent on one or two guys.”
Enter Culp-Bishop. The 5-10, 168-pound running back, who struggled to find holes in the Aviators’ defense, broke through a few minutes later.
A bad snap and Troy’s pressure forced Butler to shank a punt, giving the Trojans the ball on the Aviators’ 35. Two plays later Culp-Bishop took the hand off, appeared to slip at the line making a cut, regained his balance and blasted through the line for a 32-yard touchdown.
Troy led 36-20 with seven minutes to play.
“(Butler’s line) was huge. It was tough to find holes,” said Culp-Bishop, who unofficially finished with 133 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. “They were very aggressive the first half. I tried but it wasn’t happening. … On the sidelines we tried to figure out a play that would outsmart the defense. We just tried to make a game plan and figure out something.
“I feel like I’m learning and I’m developing really fast. I’m just trying to do good for my team right now.”
Troy was aided in the first half with stellar field position. The Trojans’ first three drives started on Butler’s 9, 40 and 39 yard lines. They capitalized with Brayden Siler’s 19-yard field goal, Coleman’s 11-yard run and Culp-Bishop’s 2-yard run for a 15-0 lead. A fifth drive started on Butler’s 2-yard line and ended with Sam Jackson’s 2-yard TD for the 22-0 advantage.
Troy ended the game taking a knee on the Aviators’ 3-yard line.
“They weren’t going to let us run the ball like we wanted to with Jayden,” said Burgbacher, whose starting running back entered the game averaging 130 yards. “Fortunately we were able to start pounding it at the end of the game and put it away. He was frustrated at halftime because he wasn’t able to do what he wanted. Vandalia had a good game plan. I told him he had to stick with it and trust it. There in the second half he had the two nice touchdown runs. He had to stick with the process and I thought our kids did a good job of that.”
Butler countered with Logan Flatt, who was averaging 146 yards per game and 9.1 yards per carry. He finished with 34 yards on 16 carries. Seven of those rushes ended in negative yards against an active Trojans defense. Butler’s initial first down came on its sixth drive and with about six minutes left before the half.
“Our big thing was we weren’t going to let Logan Flatt beat us,” Burgbacher said. “He’s a very good running back. That’s their M.O. right there. They have to get him going to get their passing game going. I think early on we set the tone. … I thought our defense played great. They’ve been consistent throughout the year. We put them in a bad situation to start the second half. But that’s what happens sometimes and you have to fight through it.”
The bad situation was a tipped pass that Butler intercepted and returned to Troy’s 13. Butler scored two plays later to pull within 22-14.
Defensively, John Wehrkamp and Culp-Bishop were among several Trojans that made outstanding open field tackles on either kickoff coverage or rushes. Christian Nation, Joah Schricker and Garrett Jones were among the Trojans who recorded sacks and Zach Schwausch applied constant pressure. Schricker also recovered a fumble.
“I thought the pressure we got on the quarterback was outstanding,” Burgbacher said. “We got some good turnovers. We put them in some situations they’re not used to.”
“Our kids, there was a point in time we were 1-2. We could have gone one of two ways and they reeled off four wins,” Burgbacher said. “They may not be pretty but they’re four victories. I’ll take them. There could have been a lot of finger pointing but those kids stuck together. This is exactly where we want to be right now. We’re 2-0 in the league. We’re playing for a league title every week. … We just like to make things interesting. We like to give fans their money’s worth.”