By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Dawson Hildebrand’s blocked punt for a safety with 1:40 to play that broke up a tie game may have given the Troy football team a thrilling 9-7 victory over Fairborn in Week 8, setting up this weekend’s showdown atop the Miami Valley League at Xenia.
But it was the Trojans’ own punting game throughout the night that made that play possible in the first place.
With both offenses struggling to move the ball all night long, Troy punter Tucker Raskay and quarterback Brayden Siler made sure the Skyhawks were pinned deep in their own end most of the night, helping the Trojans win the field position war and setting up Hildebrand’s game-winning play late.
“You could definitely see a flipping of the field, and that allowed our defense to force Fairborn to drive the entire length of the field every time,” Troy coach Dan Gress said. “You look at the percentages in football based on where teams start their drives, and that puts our defense in good position all night.
“We always preach to the boys that punting is the most important play in football, and when that helps you win a football game, that’s always nice to see.”
Raskay had five punts on the night for an average of 37.6 yards, including one 53-yarder. Four of those five punts put Fairborn inside its own 20-yard line — including the final one that pinned the Skyhawks back at their own 9-yard line.
“They did the same thing to us, too,” Gress said. “I don’t remember starting many drives in that game in positive field position. It was definitely some old-school field-position football.”
Siler, meanwhile, added a punt for 39 yards on a fourth-and-6 quick kick from Fairborn’s 42-yard line that backed the Skyhawks up on their own 3.
“It’s no secret now that we have that in our arsenal (the quick kick),” Gress said. “That goes along with us being aggressive one fourth-and-5-or-shorter. Teams know we will go for it, even on fourth-and-10 if we’re close to that 50-yard line, so that gives us one more way to help flip the field, as well.”
• Airing It Out
With Troy’s running game remaining stalled out throughout the night, adding up to only 59 yards, Siler was forced to take to the air more often than in any other game this season, going 14 for 26 for 137 yards. Entering the game, he averaged only 11 attempts per game in the Trojans’ first seven games.
But with Fairborn shutting down Siler’s usual favorite target — Austin Stanaford had only one catch for seven yards — it was Nicolas Barr that showed he could be a threat, as well. Barr finished with 91 yards on eight receptions, with the longest going for 37 yards.
“Nick Barr had a pretty good game,” Gress said. “He had a good game against Sidney, as well, and is really starting to come along and become a weapon for our offense.
“The passing game did start opening up. And even some of the deep balls that we missed, we had something there but just didn’t execute. And we’re going to have to execute this Friday.”
And on the flip side, the Troy defense held Fairborn quarterback Garison Seacrest to a season-low 25 yards on a 5 for 11 night, sacking him twice and picking him off twice.
• Big Addition
Hildebrand, who transferred to Troy from Newton High School during the summer and hadn’t played varsity football until the beginning of this season, has been a big addition to both Troy lines. His 6-foot-3, 332-pound frame helps clear the way for the Trojans’ MVL Miami Division-leading rushing attack, and on defense he has 13 total tackles this season — six solo — with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. Against Fairborn, he had one of Troy’s two sacks of Seacrest and finished with two tackles.
“The biggest impact Dawson has had on this team is what type of person he is and what he brings to the locker room,” Gress said. “He’s such a hard worker and great teammate, and he adds to that O-line and D-line group that are already our hardest workers on this team. He’s gelled and fit right in with them, bringing that sledgehammer attitude to practice.”
• Biggest Test
Troy will need to put all of those pieces and more together Friday night as it faces its toughest MVL test yet as 7-1 Troy travels to 7-1 Xenia.
The Buccaneers have not lost since the season opener, a 21-20 loss to Beavercreek. Since then, Xenia has ran off seven straight wins and gone 5-0 in the MVL Valley Division. And since entering MVL play, the Bucs have only allowed 10 total points and outscored opponents 141-10, including last week’s 37-3 rout of Tippecanoe.
“They’re a 5-2 slanting defense, and they don’t get out of it. They run what they run, and they run it very well,” Gress said. “They’ve only given up 10 points in MVL play, so they’re tough defense. They’re kind of like us in that they focus on stopping the run first, and then if they are going to give up anything in the passing game, you’re going to have to be perfect.
“Offensively, they run the triple option. You know what they’re going to run, but they run that option to perfection. (Xenia coach) Trace Smitherman has come in and installed this triple option offense, and they’re running it full stride now. They also have the biggest O-line we’ve faced all year, running behind that as well. So our defense has to be disciplined every single play, and every single player has to do their job every single play.”
And while Troy has already clinched at least a share of the MVL Miami championship — the Trojans are 6-0 with two games left, while Greenville and Piqua are both 4-2 — and Xenia has clinched the MVL Valley title outright at 5-0 with Sidney in second at 2-3, the two teams are still battling for the overall MVL crown.
“We’re not downplaying this game’s stakes,” Gress said. “What better week to come back from a tough week against Fairborn, to get that taste out of our mouth, than to try to win a league title and go against one of the better teams in Dayton right now?”
“Xenia’s best players, Troy’s best players — the game is going to come down to whose players execute and make those plays. We have some things to correct. Now it’s time to go do it.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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