By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Of all of the flashy plays, the big plays, the clutch plays that Brayden Siler made Friday night, a 4-yard run near midfield may have been the biggest.
With his Trojans holding a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter and Troy facing a fourth-and-2 from the Butler 45-yard line, the senior quarterback simply refused to be stopped.
“Two yards? Get the ball, and gotta make a play,” he said when asked what he was thinking on the play. “Full-steam ahead behind the line, run behind my big boys and just get it.”
After shoving his way forward to convert that fourth down, Siler finished that drive off with his second rushing touchdown of the night — this one to basically ice the game in the final quarter — to go with his two passing touchdowns from the first half, piling up 281 yards of offense on the night to lead the Trojan football team to a 35-14 victory over the division rival Aviators in their home opener Friday night at Troy Memorial Stadium.
“We told the kids, and we told Brayden, that we were going to take shots in this game, give our guys a chance to be playmakers,” Troy coach Dan Gress said. “And that’s what they did, make plays.”
Siler’s back-to-back touchdown passes capped off a monstrous first half. First, he hit Nicolas Barr for a 32-yard score streaking down the right sideline with 1:28 left in the second quarter, and then after a quick three-and-out by the defense, he hit Austin Stanaford on a 41-yard pass down the left sideline with :31 remaining to give the Trojans a 21-7 lead at the break, and the Trojans (2-0) put the game away in the fourth quarter after his big fourth-down conversion.
Siler finished the game with 99 rushing yards on 18 carries and was 8 for 17 passing for 182 yards.
“It feels great,” Siler said. “Tonight, every week, we come out and show what we can do as a team. We work hard and care for each other, we love playing with each other, and I think it shows every week.”
On the game’s opening possession, Butler (0-2) appeared to grab momentum as quarterback Luke Mitchell hit Ryan Wilson on a 28-yard slant on the first play from scrimmage. The Aviators drove all the way to the Troy 4-yard line, but the Trojan defense forced a fourth-and-goal — and 6-foot-3, 332-pound Dawson Hildebrand broke through the line and got a hand up to swat Jenson Brown’s 21-yard field goal try to keep the game scoreless.
Troy couldn’t cash in on that, turning it over on downs on Butler’s 31, but the Trojans came up with another stand on the other end. On fourth-and-2 from the Troy 10, a dropped screen pass gave the ball back to the Trojans, and they set out on a 10-play, 90-yard march. Siler had a 24-yard run on the first play of the second quarter to kickstart the drive, then he hit Sam Reed for a 30-yard gain to set up first-and-goal from the Aviator 9. Two plays later, Siler ran it in from 3 yards out to give the Trojans a 7-0 lead with 10:18 left in the first half.
On fourth-and-7 from the Troy 40, Butler attempted a fake punt, but Weston Smith picked off Gavin Casella’s pass at the 28-yard line. Troy’s drive stalled at midfield, though, and Bobby Buckler returned a punt 25 yards to the Troy 49-yard line — and Mitchell hit Wilson over the top for a 49-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive to tie the score at 7-7 with 4:04 until the break.
After a three-and-out by the Troy offense, Smith’s second interception of the game gave the ball back to Troy on the Butler 33. One play later, Siler dropped a pass over the top to Barr for a 32-yard touchdown to give the lead back to Troy, 14-7 with 1:28 led in the half. A fast three-and-out then gave the ball back to Troy with :49 on the clock, and on the second play of the drive, Siler hit Stanaford for a 41-yard score to give the Trojans a 14-point halftime lead.
“We always have faith in our wideouts. I have faith in every single one of them,” Siler said. “I know if I throw them the ball, they’re going to make a play. It doesn’t really matter what time of the game it is or what the situation is, if I throw the ball up, I know they’re going to come down with it.”
Troy began the second half with the ball and a chance to build onto that momentum, but its drive stalled at midfield. Butler took over on its own 15 and churned up most of the third quarter, taking the ball 85 yards on a whopping 18 plays, including four third-down conversions and one fourth-down conversion. Bobby Buckler capped it all off with a 7-yard touchdown run on third-and-4, cutting Troy’s lead to 21-14 with 1:07 left in the third.
The Trojans responded, though. On fourth-and-2 from Butler’s 45, Siler would not be denied on a 4-yard run to keep the drive alive, then Kevin Walters broke a 21-yard run to keep it moving. Siler capped it off with a 4-yard touchdown run, and Troy led 28-14 with 9:29 left in the game.
“With that fourth-down conversion, we coaches felt like that was a point in the game to just put it in our playmakers hands,” Gress said. “We were kind of sitting back and letting them dictate to us, so we felt like it was time to let our best players try to make a play. And that’s what Brayden did. You can’t ever go wrong putting it in his hands.”
Josh Mayfield then picked off a Butler pass on the first play of the ensuing possession, but penalties backed Troy up to its own 38-yard line. A 27-yard run by the sophomore Mayfield, who took over at quarterback on the drive, got the Trojans going, though, and Walters capped off a six-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 35-14 with 7:11 to play.
Butler turned the ball over on downs and then Stanaford recovered a fumbled punt inside Butler’s 5-yard line with less than 20 seconds remaining, giving Troy the chance to kill the clock and finish off the win.
Walters led the Trojans in rushing with 104 yards on 13 carries, while Stanaford had 50 yards on two catches to lead Troy’s receivers. All told, Troy had 421 yards of total offense to Butler’s 304. Wilson led the Aviators with 150 yards receiving, while Mitchell threw for 219 yards.
“I’m happy for Brayden and Kevin and the wide receivers,” Gress said. “We told the kids we were going to take shots tonight, and they took advantage of that.”
Troy travels to Turpin in Week 3.
“We’re going to celebrate this win, but we’re going to get in tomorrow and get right to work on Turpin,” Gress said. “We need to correct some of the mistakes we made. But, we won’t complain about being 2-0 either.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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