By: Matt Beltz | Towanda Daily Review | November 14, 2015 | Photo courtesy Matt Beltz
CATAWISSA — A consensus underdog as the No. 8 seed playing at perennial state power and top seed Southern Columbia on Friday, Troy started out well and appeared to be successfully executing a well-designed game plan early in the first quarter.
Although they gained a pair of first downs on their first drive after receiving the opening kickoff, the Trojans had their drive stall, but a nice punt pinned the Tigers deep in their own territory at their own 4 yard line.
From there, Southern gained just 1 yard on a pair of running plays to set up a third-and-9 from their own 5 and Troy was knocking on the door of getting good field position for its second drive. But Southern quarterback Nick Becker found a hole on a keeper and went 16 yards to gain a first down and from there, Southern needed just four more plays to find the end zone on a 33-yard run by Hunter Thomas.
That back breaker of a sequence was the beginning of the end for Troy as Southern scored on all five of its first half possessions, with its last three scores coming in a span of just 3:03 at the end of the first half, as Southern romped 42-22 over Troy in the first round of the District 4 Class AA playoffs.
"Southern is a machine. They're a well-oiled machine with a lot of moving parts and they're going to win a lot of football games from here on out," said Troy coach Jim Smith. "We did move the ball and our kids played hard but we had them at third-and-long a few times in the first and second quarters and then they converted and we've struggled with that throughout the year. It's difficult to match up with them due to their depth."
Clark Jackson ran for 136 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries for the Trojans — but 84 of those came on a single play in the third quarter after the mercy rule was already in effect. Ben Sherman gained 90 yards on 20 carries and had a pair of touchdowns in his final game. Troy had just 1 yard passing and only attempted three passes.
"They had some size and physical kids up front and they came out and played hard and were matching us early on," said Southern coach Jim Roth. "But our kids responded and adjusted a bit and we started to make things happen."
The Trojans were held to just 65 yards of total offense in the first half, with 50 of those coming on their first two possessions, which ended in punts that pinned Southern deep in its own territory.
But after Southern battled out of its poor field position and ended the drive with a touchdown on its first possession, the Trojans punted again on their ensuing possession and Southern started at its own 25. From there, the Tigers put together a methodical 15- play drive that took over five minutes and culminated in a 13-yard touchdown run by Jared Torres to put them up 14-0.
It was from this point that the Tigers completely took control of the contest. After forcing a three-and-out on Troy's next drive, they went 53 yards in seven plays, capped by Thomas finding the end zone for the second time on the evening. A 24-yard reception by Steve Toczylousky to convert on a third-and-10 play keyed that drive.
Another pair of receptions by Toczylousky accounted for two of the three plays needed on Southern's next drive to take a 28-0 lead after taking advantage of a short field on its next drive. The Tigers took possession at Troy's 39 and on the third play from scrimmage, Becker hit Toczylousky just outside the Troy end zone and Toczylousky dragged about three Troy defenders over the goal line.
On Troy's first play of its next drive, Jackson's pass was intercepted by Ross Crowl to give Southern the ball at the Troy 41 with 1:34 left in the half. On the first play from scrimmage, Torres ran 33 yards all the way to the Troy 8 and broke tackles from at least half of the Troy defense in the process. Two plays later, he capped the drive with a two-yard scamper to put the game into mercy rule territory.
"There are a lot of things we can take from this that are very positive," said Smith. "This is new territory for us playing here at Southern Columbia but we got to see it and it was something I wanted the team to see. There is no game plan for a 35-0 (deficit) but the kids kept their heads and they came out (in the second half) and took it one play at time and did what they did."
Jackson ripped off an 84-yard touchdown run to put Troy on the scoreboard late in the third quarter. That came after Troy had stopped Southern on a fourth-and-4 play from the Southern 19, which had followed Southern's first possession of the second half that ended with Troy recovering a Tiger fumble.
Southern answered with another touchdown to wrap up its scoring before Troy got a pair of touchdown runs by Sherman in the fourth quarter. The first capped a long 14-play, 80-yard drive that took nearly 12 minutes with the running clock and the Trojans then recovered another Southern fumble at the Tigers’ 3-yard line to set themselves up for Sherman’s second scoring run with just over two minutes to go.
Troy ends its season at 7-4 and will graduate a senior class that has won 35 games over the last four seasons, including a memorable run to the District 4 AA championship two years ago.
"We've had a lot of adversity with this team that not a lot of people know about," said Smith. "We lost a lot of kids to injury and that hurt our depth and we had a lot of kids playing out of position but they remained competitive and won one of the biggest games that Troy has ever won back in Week 5 against Binghamton. This senior class has really busted their tails and I’m so proud of them."