Troy/Athens to meet in district playoffs
The Athens Wildcats and Troy Trojans met during the regular season in a game that helped the Wildcats capture the NTL large-school title.
While that game was big, much more is on the line for both teams when they meet today for the rematch.
The winner moves on to the District 4, Class AA semifinals, and for the loser it's the end of the season.
"Monday we spent a little time reflecting a little bit, reflecting on our goals, our motivation," Athens coach Jack Young said. "These seniors are not ready to quit playing football yet. They are going to bring everything they've got to the table on Friday night. You can say Troy's a young team, but this time of year there is no such thing as a young team. Everyone is ready to contribute this time of year."
For the Trojans, after falling to Athens earlier in the year, they are anxious to get another chance against the Wildcats and this time in the postseason.
"I think they are extremely excited to get a playoff game, and even better yet they get a chance to redeem themselves against a team that already beat them earlier in the season, and anytime you get a chance to do that it's a little extra incentive," Troy coach Jim Smith said.
While Athens won comfortably in the first matchup, both teams know it was closer than the final score indicated.
"We are not looking ahead by any means," Young said. "We know that it was only 6-0 at halftime and they ran the second half kickoff down to the two yard line and we made a nice goal line stand. They are a good football team. They are well coached and both teams are a little different this time of year. The personnel is a little different, both teams are a little different and both teams will show up and play really well."
The Trojans know that the first time they played a good game, but they also saw how talented Athens is.
"I thought our kids played a really good game the first time around," Smith said. "You have to give credit where credit is due and Athens like the good football team they are put us away when they had the opportunity. They are senior heavy, they have a lot of experience. They have more talent then anybody we have seen this season.
"The players did learn that there is absolutely no room for error when you are playing a team like Athens. They are good in every facet of the game. We can not afford to put the ball on the ground ever. We have got to find a way to move the ball on them a little better than we did the last time. They are extremely good. Their defense is very good, they are the one team all year that really kept our offense in check."
One of the keys for Athens will be continuing to play mistake free football, something they have done well the second-half of the year.
"I feel like the little things like that the second half of the season we did a real nice job with," Young said. "We don't want that to be a difference. Our kids know how important the little things are."
One of the keys for Troy will be the play of Jed Wright, who has averaged 204 yards rushing over the past four games.
While Wright is a key, so is the balance of the Troy running game, with five players who ran for over 200 yards this year.
"He (Wright) is a talented kid, at the same time they used about five or six kids in the backfield who are all capable of doing a good job in the backfield," Young said. "The big thing with their offense is being prepared and doing a good job of tackling. This is a perfect test for that. If you don't do a good job of that against this group of kids it can be a long night."
Smith believes that Wright is one of the best players in the district, but he also knows that balance will be a key along with the play of his offensive line which has played great for the Trojans in recent weeks.
"I firmly believe that Jed is quite possibly one of the better athletes in the district," Smith said. "More importantly then that, our line of scrimmage has continually gotten stronger, and gotten more physical and they are the catalyst behind our success running the ball.
"Our line is doing an outstanding job. Severly other running backs with their combined numbers are huge. You just don't see it because there are so many of them. It's something I give our offensive line so much credit for." And, that balance running the ball is something Smith thinks will help the Trojans.
"Some of the younger kids have matured and we feel more comfortable putting them in these game situations," he said. "They have learned the system, learned how to be smart with the ball. We really don't have one kid who can tolerate 35 carries in the game. We don't have that big, physical kid we can do that with. With more kids I think it's more difficult to prepare for us and it allows us to have a kid really 100% the entire game."
Both teams expect this will be a big crowd and fun atmosphere for a district game.
"That's what we are hoping for," Young said. "People coming from all over to see the game. People from Waverly, N.Y., Towanda, Wyalusing wanting to see what these two NTL teams are like in week 11."
And, while it's a road game Troy expects good fan support.
"I think Troy we always had good fans, and we have always traveled well," Smith said. "It's a close game and to be quite frank with you I'm excited to play in that facility. It's top of the line, it's safe and we are a fast team and they are excited to play on the turf."
BY THE NUMBERS:
Rushing: Jed Wright: 140-1332-16 rushing on the season (Has averaged 204 yards the last four games and scored nine touchdowns): Justin Bradley (48-212-5), Greg Ellsworth (47-294-2), Isaac Havens (38-212-3) and Nick Stephani (37-262-0).
Passing: Wright: 24-43-360-8-4
Receiving: Darton Harwick 9-217-2, Chris Westerfer 7-121-3, Ryan Reeves 5-113-2
NOTES: Five Troy players have over 200 yards rushing this year. . . Loss to Athens was only loss to an NTL team this season. . . Have one of the most dangerous weapons in the area with Josh McClaren kicking, who has multiple field goals over 40 yards this year.
Rushing: Tyler Birdsall 176-1266-10; Austin Depew 41-245-2
Passing: Troy Stivason 70-144-1121-17-8 (Has averaged 150 yards passing over last five games and thrown six touchdowns).
Receiving: Ray McDougan 25-371-7, Curt Moore 9-175-3, Brad Sampson 16-295-5, Garrett Clark 10-215-2
NOTES: Won the regular season meeting against the Trojans ... Like Troy, has a dangerous special teams weapon in Stivason, who made a field goal over 50 yards this year.