By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
MIAMI COUNTY — Sure, the Troy-Piqua football rivalry is one of the most storied and most chronicled rivalries in the history of Ohio high school football.
But historians aren’t needed to let anyone know why Friday’s matchup between Troy and Tippecanoe is going to be a massive rivalry game.
When the Trojans face the Red Devils at Tipp City Park Friday night in a Miami Valley League Miami Division matchup, it will be the first time first-year Tippecanoe coach Matt Burgbacher faces his former players, as he coached Troy for four seasons before taking the Tipp job this year, and it will be the first time first-year Troy coach Dan Gress faces off against the man he was an assistant for for those four seasons.
And neither coach is hiding the magnitude of the game.
“I’m not a big believer, some coaches want to downplay big games and say it’s ‘just another week.’ I feel like the kids and coaches would know I’m lying to them,” Gress said. “Everyone knows it’s a big game, and we’re embracing it. We’re embracing what it’s going to be Friday, and our goal is to thrive in it.”
“It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going to be all kinds of things,” Burgbacher said. “And with both teams being 1-0 in the league, that ramps things up even more.
“It’s definitely a different week. As much as I want to say that it’s just another week, another opponent, we’re doing this, we’re doing that, it’s different.”
And it’s going to be that way for one big reason — while most rivals become familiar by being on opposite sides of the field year after year, it will be much more intimate as Burgbacher takes on his former team.
Burgbacher coached the Trojans from 2015-2018, coaching them to three straight division championships and three straight trips to the playoffs from 2016-2018. When he joined the Trojans, too, he brought with him his father Charlie Burgbacher — who had coached Tippecanoe for 26 years — as a defensive coordinator. Earlier this year, Burgbacher announced he was leaving Troy for Tippecanoe, citing the fact that it was his alma mater and the family connections with his father, who also was able to return to Tippecanoe.
Needless to say, it’s been a strange and emotional week for Burgbacher.
“It’s a first. When I left Tipp to go to (Fort) Loramie, and then when I left Loramie to go to Troy, we never played each other,” he said. “So I really haven’t encountered this. Watching Brayden Siler and Kevin Walters and everyone on film, it’s like, ‘those were our guys. Those were my players.’ So it’s definitely different. It’s a little weird, a little awkward, but I also look at is as a great opportunity. I get to watch them, I get to prepare against them.”
And it isn’t just the players, either.
“Everybody on that coaching staff except for one (Troy linebackers coach Marcus Foster) coached with me there,” Burgbacher said. “Those were my guys, and they’re still my friends. That’ll be different, too, coaching against guys that were on my staff, that had my back, guys that supported me until the end.”
Troy, for its part, is staying away from the bad blood and trying to keep its focus on the football aspect of the game.
“Honestly, I haven’t put too much thought into that I’m going against coach Burgbacher,” Gress said. “The way I’ve been looking at it, we as a team are going against an MVL rival. So not only do we need to win this because it’s a league game, and we haven’t been downplaying it. It’s going to be a big game, and it’s going to be an emotional game. It’s a big game for them, for this program and this town. But the fact that we’re facing our old head coach, that hasn’t been brought up and we’re not playing up that part of it.”
Last week’s game is making it easy for the Trojans to focus on football, too.
Troy enters this week 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the MVL Miami, having suffered its first defeat of the season — and its worst in five years — in a 62-13 loss at Cincinnati Turpin. And the minute that game ended, the Trojans were ready to get back out onto the field, any field, again and prove that that game wasn’t indicative of who they are.
“That’s the nice part of having Tipp to prepare for this week,” Gress said. “We’re going to come back out, make those corrections and be the type of team we want to be, we know we can be and will be. Preparing for a rival like this and an atmosphere like it will be, we know it’s going to be a lot of fun and a very exciting game for these kids. Getting to forget about last Friday and prepare for a team like this, we’re excited about that.”
Tippecanoe, meanwhile, comes in at 1-2 but also 1-0 in the MVL Miami, having dropped its first two games of the season before defeating Fairborn 20-7 in its home opener in Week 3 in an MVL crossover matchup — meaning that Friday night’s game will go a long way into deciding who ends up on top of the division by season’s end.
“We understand the magnitude of this and what this game means for both communities,” Burgbacher said. “But once the ball kicks off, then it is another game. I know Troy’s coming in here to win, we’re going in there to win, and it’s going to be a good game.”
It’s just a different kind of rivalry game.
“My wife said the other day she’ll be glad when this week’s over,” Burgbacher said with a chuckle. “And she typically doesn’t say that. It’s one of those weeks. It’s just different.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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