By Rob Kiser
The game is so big, there are two trophies on the line.
And, as is in most seasons, the Piqua-Troy “Battle on the Miami” this year is deserving of it — when it takes place Friday at Alexander Stadium/Purk Field.
For the second straight year, Piqua comes in 6-3 overall and 3-1 in the GWOC North with a chance to earn a share of the North title and get in the D-III, Region 12 playoffs.
Troy, 8-1 overall and 4-0 in the GWOC North, is looking for its third straight GWOC North title and to improve its D-II, Region 8 playoff standing.
And there will be both the “Battle on the Miami” and Great American Rivalry Series trophies on the line — as well as a chance for Piqua to even the overall series.
After 118 years and 133 games, Troy leads the series 64-63-6.
“Every team has their rivals,” Piqua football coach Bill Nees said. “It is just that some rivals are a lot more visual than others. It is a credit to the players on both teams that because of their hard work this game means so much more than it would if both teams just had a couple wins. They have made this an even bigger game than it would be normally.”
And Nees admits — even for the coaching staff — it is a different week than any other.
“I would describe it as a week where you are always trying to get an edge,” Nees said. “Even if you are just out mowing the yard or something like that, you are thinking about some way to get an edge.”
And the Indians can use any edge against a Troy team that has rolled through the schedule with its only loss being to D-I Miamisburg.
Senior running back Jayden Cup-Bishop (5-10, 183) leads the GWOC with 199 carries for 1,739 yards and 28 touchdowns. He is coming off a 399-yard game against Greenville Friday.
”He has been the focal point of the offense for the last three years. They have an H-back (Spencer Klopfenstein) and they bring in a defensive lineman to block at times. But, he is the main guy in the backfield.”
But, he is far from the Trojans only weapon.
Junior quarterback Brayden Siler (6-1, 181) has completed 84 of 138 passes for 1,205 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Klopfenstein (6-4, 211, senior) leads the receivers with 22 catches for 209 yards, while senior Shane Shoop (5-7, 180) has had four of his 13 receptions go for touchdowns.
“The quarterback (Brayden Siler) is a threat to run and does a great job managing things,” Nees said.
The defense — operating out of a 50 look — is equally impressive.
Senior linebacker Sam Jackson (6-0, 208) leads the GWOC in sacks with six and junior Weston Smith (5-9, 145) is tied for the GWOC lead with five interceptions.
Senior linebacker Blake Burton (5-11, 193) leads the team with 76 tackles, while Jackson has 72.
Senior defensive lineman Garrett Jones (5-10, 231) has three sacks, Shoop has forced two fumbles and Jackson has recovered two fumbles.
“It is very similar to what Tippecanoe does, because Charlie Burgbacher is their defensive coordinator and he was the Tipp coach for a long time,” Nees said. “So, we got a pretty good look at it this past week.”
For Piqua, senior quarterback Mick Karn (5-11, 192) makes the offense go.
He directed the Indians on a 93-yard game-winning drive against Tippecanoe Friday. He has almost half the team’s rushing yards with 953 yards on 139 carries and has completed 56 of 101 passes for 773 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
His favorite target is senior Owen Toopes (6-2, 171) who has 25 receptions for 386 yards.
And Karn has done it while being the focal point of other teams defenses every week.
“Mick (Karn) really does a nice job for us back there,” Nees said. “It is not just running the ball either. I think what gets overlooked sometimes is how well he can throw the ball. I think he is very underrated in that area.
“The one thing we have to be careful of sometimes with Mick is he gets banged up on defense sometimes. The Vandalia-Butler game was a prime example of that. We were in a two-minute situation and because this thumb got banged up, we really couldn’t throw the ball. That is one thing we have to be careful of. “
Nees also feels Piqua’s running backs often get overlooked. Sophomore fullback Jerell Lewis (6-1, 242) had two 20 yard-plus runs on the game-winning drive last week.
“The thing about our running backs, there seems to be one guy that steps up every week, then it will be a different guy the next week,” Nees said.
And while the Piqua defense faces a stiff challenge, they have been solid all season while mixing four and five man fronts.
Junior linebacker Matt Blankenship (5-11, 204) leads the team with 59 tackles, including 50 solo tackles. He also blocked an extra point against Tippecanoe last week.
Junior linebacker Makeegen Kuhn (6-1, 218) adds 46 tackles, while senior defensive linemen Grant Toopes (6-3, 226) and Brennan Toopes (6-0, 209) both have 2.5 sacks.
Sophomore defensive back Blane Ouhl (6-3, 168) has recovered two fumbles, while Karn has three interceptions and Owen Toopes has two.
And both teams have threats on special teams.
Culp-Bishop is averaging 24.6 yards on kickoff returns and 11.0 on punt returns, with a 75-yard kickoff return for a TD.
The Trojans have also returned several blocked punts for touchdowns.
Junior Tucker Raskay (6-1, 161) has averaged 36.0 yards on punts, while Siler is 40-46 on PAT kicks and has made his only field goal attempt.
Senior Trenton Foster (5-9, 159) is averaging 33.8 yards on kickoff returns for Piqua and 11.0 yards on punt returns.
Karn is averaging 40. 1 yards on punts and is 11-for-16 on PAT kicks. The Indians have not attempted a field goal.
“You know, they always say you can throw the records out for this game,” Nees said. “ And that may be true, but it really is a credit to the kids on both teams and the work they have put in that there is every thing at stake this week and it is way, way more relevant than it would be if both teams were coming in with a couple wins.”
Something that has remained the same for 118 years and 133 games.