By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Entering this season, Troy’s Dawson Hildebrand had never played high school football.
Friday night, the 6-foot-3, 332-pound junior lineman — aptly dubbed “The Mountain” — made the biggest play of his young career.
With 1:40 remaining in a tie ballgame, Hildebrand broke through the line and blocked a Fairborn punt, sending it sailing out the back of the end zone for the game-winning safety as the Trojans gutted out a grueling 9-7 Senior Night victory over the Skyhawks in Miami Valley League crossover play Friday night at Troy Memorial Stadium.
“It’s exciting,” Hildebrand said. “It’s a fun sport, and I owe it to my teammates and my coaches, who have given me this opportunity. I’ve only played eight games now, and it’s not going bad.”
The win was a huge one for Troy, too. On the night they celebrated their 19 seniors, the Trojans improved to 7-1 overall and 6-0 in the MVL Miami Division. Coupled with Piqua’s win over Greenville to make both of those teams 4-2 in the MVL Miami, the victory ensures Troy at least a share of its fourth straight division championship and the first title in the new league.
“Obviously that wasn’t pretty, and we have a lot to work on and correct. But we’re going to enjoy this one — because you don’t go 7-1 every single year,” Troy coach Dan Gress said. “We’re going to enjoy it as coaches and let the boys enjoy it tonight — then tomorrow, it’s work time. But we’re enjoying it tonight.
“We knew the type of shot that Fairborn would take, that it’d be their best. And with the talent they have and the level that coaching staff has them playing at right now, we knew we were going to take a pretty tough shot from them.”
In the end, Fairborn (3-5, 2-4 MVL Valley Division) likely wishes Hildebrand had stayed at nearby Newton High School, which he transferred to Troy from for a chance to play football since Newton doesn’t offer it.
With the score tied 7-7 and the Skyhawks pinned deep and facing a fourth-and-4 from their own 15-yard line, they went to punt and attempt to give the Troy offense — which had done nothing since the opening drive of the game — more ground to deal with in the final two minutes.
“That’s the dilemma every coach has — you want to go after it, but you also run that risk of roughing the punter and giving them the ball back,” Gress said. “It was such a tight game, and it was the players that went and made that block and made that play.”
Instead, though, Hildebrand and two other Trojans burst through to put pressure on the punter, and Hildebrand threw his arms up in the air.
“I was just thinking ‘I’ve got to hit this ball,’” Hildebrand said. “That’s all. I don’t even remember anything else.”
He did just that, and the ball flew 20 yards through the air and straight out the back of the end zone, giving the Trojans a 9-7 lead with 1:40 on the clock. Forced to kick off from its own 20, Fairborn attempted an onside kick, but Troy senior Tucker Raskay — who had kept the Skyhawks pinned deep in their own territory all night in the punting game — recovered it. Fairborn had used all but one of its timeouts before that, and Troy ran out the rest of the clock and never gave the Skyhawks another chance.
“It’s a nice feeling. I don’t even really know how to describe it. This is all brand new to me. It’s just exciting,” Hildebrand said.
“In big-time situations, big-time players are going to have to step up,” Gress said. “That’s been the name of the game for us all year. And I guarantee you, in Dawson’s head, he’s not thinking (of how clutch the situation is). He’s just playing all out. And that play he made, the biggest play of the night, happened to help us win the football game.”
Troy jumped out of the gate fast.
After a 28-yard kickoff return by Colten Block allowed the Trojans to start at midfield, then Brayden Siler hit Nicolas Barr with a 32-yard pass to put the ball inside the red zone. Siler then ran the ball for a 17-yard gain, getting tripped up and stretching forward to the 1-yard line, then Walters punched it in from 1 yard out to cap off a three-play, 50-yard drive. Tucker Raskay’s extra point gave Troy a 7-0 lead with only 53 seconds ticked off the clock.
The Skyhawks answered, though. Taking over on their own 35, they marched 65 yards on 11 plays, including a fourth-and-3 conversion from the Troy 20-yard line. Four plays later on third-and-12 from the Troy 15, Hunter Warner burst through the middle on a draw play and stretched the ball over the goal line as he was brought down for a 15-yard touchdown run — and the point-after try bounced off the post but still went in to tie the score at 7-7 with 5:25 left in the opening quarter.
That would be the final score of the first half, too. Troy was forced to punt at midfield on the ensuing possession, then Fairborn quickly stalled out following that. The Trojans drove into Fairborn territory but were forced to punt from the Skyhawk 42, with Siler hitting a pooch punt and the team downing it on the 3-yard line.
Fairborn was able to keep the ball for 15 plays and drain most of the second-quarter clock, with Troy finally taking over on its own 23-yard line with 44 seconds left in the half. Troy got into Fairborn territory at the 45, but a pair of hail mary attempts by Siler fell incomplete, leaving the score tied 7-7 at the break.
That didn’t change in the second half, either.
Troy senior Weston Smith intercepted a Garison Seacrest pass on the first possession of the third quarter, but the Fairborn defense kept the Trojans from capitalizing on it. Raskay pinned the Skyhawks back at their own 11 and that drive stalled out at Troy’s 41-yard line, but Troy was again forced to punt. A sack by Hildebrand ended the third quarter, and an interception by Dawson Roby on the first play of the fourth gave the ball back to Troy.
Another punt by Raskey put Fairborn on its own 17, and a three-and-out allowed Troy to take over at its own 42 with 7:17 to go. A fourth-down conversion by Siler got Troy to Fairborn’s 29, but a holding penalty on the next play stifled any momentum the Trojans had, and they had to punt again. This time, Raskay pinned Fairborn on its own 9, setting up Hildebrand’s heroics.
All told, Fairborn’s offense outgained Troy’s 292-187, with the Trojans’ typically-dominant rushing game only netting them 50 yards. Hunter Warner led the Skyhawks with 115 yards on 23 carries and Secrest was 5 for 11 for 125 yards, while Siler led Troy with 45 rushing yards and went 14 for 26 for 137 passing yards, with Barr grabbing eight passes for 91 yards.
“There were times where (the running game) was right there, just one block here or there away. And those are all fixable mistakes,” Gress said. “And I have absolutely no doubt that, as an offense, we’re going to correct those, bounce back and get that running game going again.”
Troy will have to do it quick, too — a road game at 7-1 Xenia awaits in Week 9, leading up to the regular season finale against rival Piqua at home.
“The only thing that’s going to be on our mind when we show up tomorrow is correcting the mistakes on film and then beating Xenia,” Gress said. “Nothing else is going to be on our mind the entire week. We’re taking it one game at a time.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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