By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Every football player that takes part in the yearly Troy-Piqua game learns quickly just what it means to be a part of the most storied rivalry in Ohio high school football history.
“Whenever we play, it’s electric,” Troy senior tight end and defensive lineman Tito Fuentes said. “Throughout the stadium, all of the fans are in it just as much as the players.”
“Yeah, the atmosphere, it’s really something else,” Troy senior center Riley Hubbard said.
And when the two archrivals meet for the 135th time Friday night at Troy Memorial Stadium, expect that to be the case once again as Troy (7-2, 6-1 Miami Valley League Miami Division) and Piqua (5-4, 5-2 MVL Miami) battle for not only a share of a division title, but also playoff positioning.
It will be the fourth straight year that a share of a division title is up for grabs, as Troy can win the first MVL Miami Division title outright with a win, while Piqua needs to win to earn a share of the crown.
“My freshman year, I was able to play in it, and it was a little different circumstances,” Troy senior Tucker Raskay, a wide receiver and defensive back as well as the team’s punter, said. “We were fighting for the GWOC (Greater Western Ohio Conference) North title, and someone said there was 10,400 fans. To me, I feel like no matter what, I’ll be ready Friday night.
“As seniors, that’s one thing — we don’t let it get to us and try not to let it affect the team as much. There’s a lot of outside talk, but we don’t let that affect us. And the coaches do a good job of that, too.”
“It’s always special to come out and play in one of the best rivalries in all of high school football,” Troy senior quarterback Brayden Siler said. “It’s just an honor.”
And with their recent three-game winning streak — the last time Piqua defeated Troy was 26-7 in 2015 — the Trojans have taken a 65-63-6 lead in the series.
“Even though we’re 3-0 (as a senior class), we’re still not going to take it lightly by any stretch,” Fuentes said.
“We know it’s not going to be a given,” Hubbard said. “We’re going to give it all we have.”
And even though Troy coach Dan Gress has already been part of the rivalry the past few years as an assistant coach, he knows this year will be different, being his first Troy-Piqua game as the team’s head coach.
“I definitely feel the pressure, the responsibility and the importance a little more,” Gress said. “It’s very similar to when I first got the job back in spring. I’ve always had the utmost respect for the Troy football program, and now I feel personally indebted. I owe it to this community, to the schools, to the boys, to the families, to the alumni, to put these boys in the best position possible to be successful on Friday.”
Piqua enters the game coming off of a milestone night — with a 28-14 victory at Tippecanoe last week, coach Bill Nees won his 200th career victory. Troy, meanwhile, is coming off of only its second loss of the season, a hard-fought 24-22 defeat at 8-1 Xenia.
“I think coming off of that Xenia loss, we know what we can do,” Raskay said. “I think we’re going to play to our ability. And it being the Troy-Piqua game just speaks for itself. We know this Piqua team, and we know how good they are. They’re coached by a good guy that knows what he’s doing.
“That’s one thing we’ve figured out with other teams. They’re all going to give us their best shot. We can’t overlook anybody.”
And with Troy having locked up a share of its fourth straight division title — and first as a member of the new MVL — Gress’ favorite part of coaching the Trojans this year has been the way the team has handled it when things haven’t been easy.
“It’s great, wins, losses, division titles, but I can promise you that what this coaching staff is most proud of is the way this team has responded to adversity,” he said. “Game after game. You look back at Week 1 (against Belmont), winning it on a goal-line stand in overtime. Bouncing back from a butt-whooping against Turpin to beat one of our new rivals in Tippecanoe. Being down or tied at halftime in games. These boys have had to come out and fight every game, and they’ve done that.
“And the biggest thing this staff is proud of, what these boys should be proud of, what everyone should be proud of, is they have not turned their backs on each other when the going got tough once. That’s what we told them at the beginning of the year would make or break this team, is loving each other, and they’ve done that.”
Last year, Troy entered Piqua week on a roll at 8-1 and having outscored opponents by an average of 36.6-11.7 per game — only to trail 6-0 late in the game before Siler hit Shane Shoop with a 41-yard touchdown pass with roughly four minutes to play and then kicked the extra point to propel the Trojans to a thrilling come-from-behind 7-6 win. Having already been part of one of the biggest moments in the rivalry’s history, Siler is hoping it doesn’t come down to that this time.
“You’re just trying to find some of that magic again — but also not really wanting to have to use that,” Siler said. “We’d like to be in a better position than we were in last year.”
This year, defense has again been a staple for the Indians, giving up an MVL Miami-low 126 total points this season. Jerell Lewis leads the team — and the MVL — with 9.5 of its 23 total sacks, as well as piling up 45 tackles, two forced fumbles and two recoveries, while Makeegen Kuhn leads the team with 48 tackles and has to fumbles forced and four fumble recoveries. Aidan Meyer leads the secondary with two of the Indians’ six interceptions this year.
Piqua has been led offensively by running back Ca’ron Coleman, with 739 yards and 12 touchdowns on 110 carries. The Indians have plenty of other threats to run the ball, too, as Jasiah Medley, Tanner Kemp, Cory Miller, Kuhn and Lewis all have rushed for more than 180 yards and have combined for nine touchdowns. And when forced to throw, quarterback Blane Ouhl has gone 28 for 68 for 325 yards with three touchdowns and only one interception.
Troy, meanwhile, has been led by dual-threat quarterback Siler and its running game in general. Senior Kevin Walters leads the team with 1,064 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 156 carries, while Siler had 852 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 157 carries. Siler is also 62 for 112 passing for another 893 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Evans Jones leads the team with 72 tackles in addition to two forced fumbles and two recoveries, with senior defensive lineman Austan Good right behind with 70 tackles and 3.5 of the team’s 19 total sacks. Junior Alex Greene leads the team with four sacks, while senior defensive back Weston Smith leads the MVL with six of the team’s 10 interceptions
And even though much of the focus in the Week 10 matchup is on the division title, the implications of the game go beyond that. Troy is looking to clinch its fourth straight trip to the playoffs and could potentially earn a home game with a win, currently sitting in fifth place in the Division II, Region 7 standings. Piqua also controls its own destiny, though, currently sitting in eighth in the same region and looking to make its first playoff appearance since 2015.
But even with the stakes so high, with the division title and trips to the playoffs up for grabs, with the stands sure to be packed and with the weight of the rivalry’s history bearing down on all those involved, the players all know that the only thing that they can do about any of it is simply play the game.
“That’s all on the line, and that’s always going to be there, but for us, that’s not really what we’re focused on,” Siler said. “It’s just going out and performing, doing what we can do to the best of our abilities against that team up I-75.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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