NTL FOOTBALL: TROY EXCITED TO HOST SOUTHERN COLUMBIA FOR DISTRICT FINAL
(2023-11-16)BY CHRIS MANNINGNorthern Tier Sports Report
This is the game Troy has waited a whole year for - their shot to take down the defending state champions, Southern Columbia, and win their first district title since 2013.
“I feel like playing them last year was a big deal,” said Troy coach Jimmy Smith. “We had a really, really young group who started five freshmen a year ago, and a bunch of sophomores, and now we’ve got a bunch of sophomores and juniors, with a couple standout seniors, and these young guys got to feel the state’s best football team in AA.”
The Tigers pulled away from Troy, 48-12, to win that district semifinal match-up en route to their sixth straight state title.
“I think the kids understood they competed well physically, but made some mistakes - fumbles, interceptions, and did some things that were uncharacteristic of us. And, we know that against a great football team, we can’t do that. I feel like, this year, our confidence is a little bit higher, and we know what we have to do.”
Offensively Troy comes in with over 3,000 yards rushing as a team and a 1,000 yard passer in Evan Woodward.
Woodward has 22 touchdowns to just three picks on a .755 completion percentage with 1,353 yards through the air. He’s also Troy’s third highest rusher, with 371 yards and eight scores on 32 carries - making him a dual threat back there.
“Last year I specifically didn’t do a great job,” Woodward said. “But if we can hang on to the ball and we’ll just have to have long slow drives, and maybe take a couple shots, and see what happens.”
As the weather has turned colder Troy’s gone more to the running game. Brendan Gilliland leads the team with 608 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on 45 carries. He has a team high 13.5 yards per rush.
Clayton Smith has also seen the ball quite a bit since he’s come back from injury. He has 416 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 60 carries in just a little over five games.
His younger brother, Mason Smith has 365 yards rushing and four scores on 35 touches, with a total of 10 backs running for more than 100 yards on the season this year.
That’s the sign of a good offensive line, something the Trojans have been known for during Smith’s time as head coach.
They know they’ll be called upon this week to help carry the offense.
“We’re just making sure that we have clean reps all around,” Shaun Wood said about their preparation. “Clean practicing and making each other better every day.”
If they do go to the air Lincoln Chimics leads the team with 520 yards receiving and nine scores on 28 catches, while Camryn Harwick has 29 receptions for 466 yards and five scores. Gilliland has added eight touchdowns and 318 yards through the air on 18 receptions.
This group knows they’ll have to start a little faster this week than they did against Line Mountain in the semifinals. Their first drive was a 3-and-out and didn’t gain a yard.
Once Troy did get going Line Mountain couldn’t stop them, racking up 31 points by the half.
“It’ll be important,” remarked Woodward. “We started pretty slow last week, but if we can have the same momentum throughout the whole game, that’ll be good.”
On the other side of the ball Troy will have to find a way to slow down Southern’s two 1,000 yard rushers in Garrett Garcia (1,280 yards, 22 touchdowns, 146 carries) and Louden Murphy (1,138 yards, 20 touchdowns, 115 carries).
Blake Wise has thrown for 1,158 yards on the year with 10 touchdowns to just three picks with a .602 completion percentage.
All three are seniors, so they have plenty of big game experience to draw from.
“We really just have to keep our focus,” said linebacker JB Burbage. “Even if they have one big play, we’ve got to come back next play, and just kind of didn’t happen, and go from there.”
Burbage leads the team with 71 tackles on the season while fellow linebacker, Jackson Taylor, is second with 57 tackles. Taylor leads the team with eight sacks on the season.
“I love playing with Jackson,” Burbage said. “He’s a dog, I love playing with him.”
They’ve been playing lights out defensively for much of the season, and have a 3-game shutout streak going.
“It’s been pretty big, honestly,” remarked Burbage. “I love just going out there, having fun playing with everybody I do on defense.”
After some consternation at where the game was going to be played it was decided last weekend that they will be playing at Alparon Park.
“I was getting kind of worried when they were talking about whether or not it would be here,” Wood said. “But I’m really happy that it’s going to be here.”
All season long Troy has had the slogan ‘why not us.’ Now they’ll get the chance to live it out.
“There’ll be a feeling out phase,” Smith said. “The big thing is limiting their explosive plays until we’re all settled in, and know what we have to do. I think that if we can keep the game close for a little while, and our confidence builds, we have a really great opportunity to win this game.”
Kick-off is set for Friday at 7 p.m.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Southern Columbia - Get defensive stops. Troy likes to rob other team’s offenses of possessions with long drives that eat up yards and clock. If the Tigers can get their defense off the field they’ll force the Trojans to do things they’re not as comfortable with to move the ball.
Troy - Come out of the gates strong. Southern Columbia showed in their win over Mt. Carmel just how quickly they can bury teams. The Trojans can’t afford to get behind by two or three scores.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Isaac Carter, Southern Columbia, DE - He leads the team in tackles for loss with 15 to go with eight sacks. Southern’s linebackers of Garcia and Dominic Fetterlof will be key, too, but Carter has that X-factor potential to create havoc in the Trojan backfield.
Brendan Gilliland, Troy, RB, LB - Possibly Troy’s best 2-way player as a sophomore. He has big play potential on offense, with six sacks and 46 tackles on defense. He’s had his moments to shine during the season, and this would be good one for him to shine, too.
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