Troy prepares for first district title game in 25 years
Troy has been waiting 25 years for this chance.
Today the Trojans travel down to District IV, Class AA defending football champions Danville to play for the 2013 title.
And the historic significance hasn't been lost on the players.
"I wasn't even born the last time Troy was in a district championship game," quarterback Jed Wright remarked.
Despite that the Trojans are treating this like any other week.
"I think we have to take it like any other game," Troy center Dylan Brennan said. "We know it's higher stakes and we know it's a bit bigger game but we have to play like we normally do."
While the perception is NTL teams don't travel well Troy didn't have any problems last week against Montoursville as they jumped out to a 17-0 lead to start the game.
"I think it's all a mind set thing," Brennan explained. "We have to play like we did at Montoursville. It doesn't matter if were playing at the cow pasture at home or some big stadium away."
Coming into this season Troy knew they had a chance to be here. They brought back a lot from last year's team that was second in the NTL.
"We knew we were working for it," Brennan remarked. "We have the kids and we have the work ethic."
However, they've been feeling the pressure, too.
"Expectations are no fun," remarked coach Jim Smith. "Getting the kids to understand that they have an opportunity is a challenge and it's been a challenge all year."
Despite coming up short in their bid for an NTL title Smith playing a tough league schedule has helped them for the post season.
"We've had strong opponents, I think a really strong league," he said. "There'a play or two away from there being a potentially 3-way tie for the NTL. That says a lot about the strength of our league."
Ever since Troy's loss to Loyalsock they've won every game by an average of 28.5 points, including the two playoff games, and are riding a 6-game win streak going into today.
Danville has had a bumpier road to the district final.
They had a chance to be the top seed but in the final week of the regular season they lost 17-14 to Selinsgrove, a team Mt. Carmel beat.
The Ironmen easily handled Lewisburg 23-6 in the first round but struggled in the first half against Loyalsock in the semi-finals. They found themselves down 21-7 at the half before rallying for a 28-21 victory.
Their biggest win this season was 37-13 over Mifflinburg and a 23-21 win over Loyalsock in week two, a team Troy lost to 40-21. They also lost to Montoursville 21-10.
The only other common opponent they have with Troy is Jersey Shore, the District IV, Class AAA champion. Danville won 24-7 while the Trojans beat them in week one 35-18.
But this is a veteran team and it is no mistake that they are here to defend their title.
"First and foremost we have to stop their run," Smith explained. "They are a run based team with the ability to pass. IF they can get away with running at you they will exclusively run the ball. It's not by chance they are here again. We're going to have our hands full."
Sam Dressler is their top rusher with 1262 yards this season on 187 carries and 13 touchdowns.
"The Dressler boy is their all-time leading rusher," Smith said. "He's a big, strong kid. He's got a nice looking line in front of him."
Their second back Isaiah Croll is solid, too, with 584 yards on the ground and four scores off 90 touches.
They're also proficient through the air as starter Weston Baylor is 53-for-108 for 769 with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Zack Kozick has also seen action this season, going 25-for-42 for 269 yards with two touchdowns and four picks.
Evan Tanner is their top receiver with 29 catches for 500 yards and seven touchdowns. Kozick has 10 catches for 151 yards and two scores.
With numbers like that Troy knows that they have to come in red hot like their start against Montoursville last week.
"Getting our offense rolling," Troy's Nick Stephani remarked about their focus this week. "We need to put points on the board."
Their best asset may be their offensive line, which has led the way for a Trojan ground game that has amassed over 4000 yards on the ground.
But they, too, know the importance of starting fast.
"It's always big for us," Brennan said. "Always get the tempo going, the momentum, set the demeanor of the game and just... play."
And they will need to play a full four quarters as the Ironmen are capable of playing shut down defense.
Eric Haney is their top tackler with 129 tackles at middle linebacker. They also have 15 sacks as a team and 21 interceptions, six by Matt Meloy.
Last week they held Kyle Datres and the explosive Lancer offense to no second half points in their come from behind win.
"It's very important, it's important in all games," Brennan said about the offensive line getting their push. "You can see, some of our games we didn't fare too well. That's one of the major reasons we have to fire out, make our blocks, push our kids around and just play like we do, play aggressive."
Jed Wright once again leads the Trojan offense, going for 1426 yards on the ground this year off 149 carries. He has 15 of Troy's 49 rushing touchdowns.
They've also gotten some contributions from other backs.
Diante Jones has 698 yards on 92 carries with 10 scores, Brandon Mattocks has 601 yards on 87 carries with 10 touchdowns and Ross Sherman has 330 yards on 42 carries with six touchdowns, including a 50 yard score last week.
It's an offense Smith is confident in, especially when it comes to the option.
"I think running the option is a huge advantage," he stated. "It's a play that, almost everybody has in theri play book but it's a play they have and for us it's a system we run. Everything we do comes off the option."
His signal caller Wright believes the option can give Danville's defense fits.
"I don't even know if they've seen it before," Wright remarked. "It's going to be something new to them."
Smith also believes he has the right personnel to make it succeed this week, even against the stingy Danville defense.
"I have a really nice looking line that comes off the ball and understand what's going on," Smith said. "They're smart kids."
He also has a lot faith in Wright under center.
"I think we may have a quarterback who runs it better than anyone I've ever seen in my lifetime at the high school level," remarked Smith. "So we're very fortunate. We have a plethora of backs, they all give you something a little bit different, they're always fresh. Another week it's another guy making a play, it's really been a nice year with the group we've had."
His senior signal caller believes in the system, too.
"We're not going to try to play a game that's not ours," Wright said. "We've had pretty good success this year, that's what we do so we're going to do it. We're going to do what we do best. We've just got to come out from play one ready to go."
The other side of the ball will be just as important for the Trojans.
Danville is capable of using up lots of clock on their drives. They may not even score but take up five, six or seven minutes a series, leaving little time for the opposition.
Last week Troy faced one of the top rushing offenses in district. And while Montoursville was with out their top two backs they did show off a strong offensive line that helped sophomore Keith Batkowski rush for 173 yards.
But the Trojan defense did a great job of not breaking under the pressure, keeping Montoursville scoreless until they were up 17-0.
"I had some questions," Smith said about his run defense going into last Friday. "Most of the teams we faced this year had run a lot of spread and we've grown accustom to it and I felt we've gotten good at it. To turn around and face a good running team is something we haven't done and I think our defense really stepped up to the challenge last week."
Take away two of Batkowski's big runs and Troy held him to under 100 yards. That is good piece of mind for Smith.
"It gives us confidence going into this week," he said.
Stephani is Troy's top tackler with 99 while Levi Smith has 90 and sophomore Kyle Schucker has 79. Caelan Taylor leads the team in sacks with six while Brandon Mattocks had five interceptions in the defensive backfield.
The players know it's going to take a total effort this week.
"It's very important for our defense to stop their run and their passing," Stephani explained. "I think we'll be pretty strong this week. We need to fix a couple things but we'll get them."
"Try and stop what they do best," added Schucker. "Try and shut it down. I think we can, they're a good team. They have a good offense."
The players also haven't been lost on the significance this run as in the community.
"This is big for the community," Stephani remarked. "It's been a long time coming, I know that much."
"It's amazing," added Schucker. "It's just a wonderful opportunity that we could be in it."
They're also feeling the love.
"People are cheering us on as we walk down the street," explained Brennan. "People are saying 'congratulations, good luck Friday, you'll get them.' The turn out at Alparon Park has been crazy, everyone's just backing us up 100%."
Smith is especially happy to see his players turn it around.
"I'm proud for the boys," he said. "I think it just represents the town well. I'm happy for the town, they've responded by giving us a lot of support. I think that's really impressive."
However, it's also not lost on Smith that this will be an NTL vs HAC match-up as well. And he's out to show that the whole NTL can play with them down South as well.
"I think it's something a lot of teams in the South maybe don't have a lot of respect for our league," he said. "(So we) represent them as well."