By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — With Week 11 on the line, both Troy Christian and Miami East went to war.
In the end, though, the Eagles — who entered the night ranked No. 2 in the Division VII, Region 28 playoff standings — wore out the Vikings in the second half, finally slowing down the Miami East offense while not losing a step on their side of the ball and pulling away for a 42-21 victory Friday night in Casstown to improve to 8-1 on the season.
Unofficially, as of Friday night, the Eagles clinched a home game in the first round of the playoffs with the win. With the loss, the Vikings (6-3) — who entered the night in the sixth spot in the Division VI, Region 24 playoff standings — will likely need a victory in their finale next week to make sure they’re playing in Week 11.
“This was a really big win for us,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Jones said. “Aside from the playoff implications, this was a big win for us against a team that beat us last year. A big win on the road against a really good football team that’s well coached and plays physical. Those are the kind of wins a program needs to improve and advance, and that’s the kind of win we got tonight. I was really proud of the way the guys played.”
“They’re a good football team, and I don’t think we have anything to be ashamed of,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “We’ve just got to regroup and get ready for Twin Valley South if we want to play Week 11.”
After the first half, both defenses looked helpless.
Troy Christian marched 66 yards in seven quick plays on the game’s opening possession, turning in plays of 10-or-more yards on the first four plays of the drive. On third-and-5, quarterback Hayden Hartman hit Jacob Brown on an 11-yard fade in the back corner of the end zone, giving the Eagles a 7-0 lead after only 2:11 had passed.
The Eagles threw an interception on the second play of the ensuing possession, but the Viking defense forced a three-and-out to take the ball back. East then set out on an eight-play, 75-yard drive, finished off by a bruising 4-yard touchdown run up the middle by Levi Adducchio to tie the game at the 4:33 mark of the first quarter.
The Eagles answered with an eight-play, 64-yard drive of their own, scoring with 1:37 left in the first quarter. A 17-yard run by Hartman gave Troy Christian first-and-goal at the Viking 4, and finally on third-and-goal Hartman snuck it in from the shotgun spread formation from 1 yard out to give the Eagles a 14-7 lead.
Miami East began the ensuing drive with a holding penalty, sticking itself with a first-and-22 from its own 17. Quarterback Ian Gengler hit Arron Adams for a 26-yard screen play, though, kickstarting a 10-play, 71-yard drive that ended once again with a tough 4-yard touchdown run by Adducchio to even the score with 9:20 left until halftime.
Not to be outdone, Troy Christian took the ball 58 yards on 10 plays, converting two clutch third downs along the way before Jacob Calvert punched it in on first-and-goal from 2 yards out to give the Eagles a 21-14 lead with 5:21 left in the half.
That was plenty of time for the Vikings to march it back down the field, though. A 15-play, 65-yard drive that included a fourth-and-1 conversion on a 2-yard run by Ian Gengler concluded with a 4-yard touchdown run by Adams to tie the score with 1:02 until the break. The Viking defense held before the half, almost picking off a pair of passes in the process, but the score remained tied 21-21 at the break.
Troy Christian had 221 yards of offense in the first half, with Hartman carrying the ball 12 times for 94 yards and completing seven passes for 76 yards. The Vikings, meanwhile, had 217 yards of offense — 191 of that on the ground, with Justin Brown piling up 81 first-half yards on nine carries and Adams 76 yards on eight carries.
“That was a tough first half,” Jones said. “It was a shootout. It seemed like every possession was critical. It had that feeling where any defensive stop could be a game-changer. But going into halftime, we felt pretty good. We had to make some adjustments, though, because they were running that ball at us very effectively.
“We made some halftime adjustments defensively and put some things in offensively, and the guys did what they did all year — they take the adjustments and they execute them. Anyone can make adjustments. But when you’ve got players that can understand why you’re doing it, what the intention is and execute it, it makes a difference. Having that senior leadership and that experience, it makes that difference.”
Thanks to that, the second half was all Troy Christian.
With both defenses making adjustments and playing better early in the third, the Eagles finally were able to go on a drive and score on a 3-yard touchdown by Calvert to give Troy Christian a 28-21 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Vikings turned the ball over on downs, but an interception by Justin Brown appeared to tie the score after a 50-yard pick-six. A penalty called the touchdown back, though, and the Eagle defense forced a punt. And with 7:18 left in the game, Hartman hit Jacob Brown in stride with a 57-yard touchdown pass to give Troy Christian a two-score lead for the first time in the game, 34-21.
“The game was tied after that play, but they called a personal foul 20 yards behind the play,” Current said. “I didn’t see it. My eyes were on Justin. But after that penalty, we didn’t do anything with the ball, and they hit us with a fade to go up by two scores.”
“That was a huge play. After that interception, our defense stepped up and made a big stop,” Jones said. “That would’ve tied the game. That really would’ve altered the course of the second half. I think Hayden was disappointed after throwing that interception, and it motivated him on the defensive side of the ball. He made some great plays that next series at strong safety. It was a very physical game, and we ran the ball with him quite a bit. For him to do what he did on both sides of the ball was pretty impressive for a high school quarterback.
“(The touchdown pass) was another big play. It was third-and-long, and we needed it. Jacob has been a great receiver for us all year. He makes plays in clutch situations. Hayden threw a great pass as he was rolling out, Jacob made a great play on the ball and was able to take it to the house. That got us that little cushion that we needed for the defense to try to salt the game away.”
East turned the ball over on downs again, and Calvert broke a long touchdown run with 2:41 to play. Troy Christian cashed in the two-point conversion try to make it 42-21, and one final turnover on downs sealed the win.
“The defense played lights out in the second half,” Jones said. “We shut Arcanum out in the second half last week, too. It was a fantastic effort tonight.”
“We didn’t do a good job of making adjustments in the second half, and I’ll take the blame for that,” Current said. “Going into the last three games, we figured if we could win two of them, we’d be playing in Week 11. We wanted to win those first two, though. It was a good battle, and we knew it would be. They just made a few more plays than we did.”
Hartman finished 12 for 20 passing for 202 yards and had 21 carries for 131 yards. Calvert had 75 yards on 14 carries, Jacob Brown had three receptions for 73 yards and Peyton Spurlock had four games for 101 yards.
Adams led the Vikings with 105 rushing yards on 16 carries, Adducchio had 91 yards on 17 carries and Justin Brown had 72 yards on 14 carries. Gengler was 6 for 17 for 78 yards, with Adams catching three passes for 55 yards.
Troy Christian finishes the season at home against Mississinawa Valley, while Miami East travels to Twin Valley South.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.